Protecting Democracy Comes Before Promoting Faith

Preserving democratic secularism in the face of a growing faction of religious extremism.

This week’s question could not be more important. Events around the world in recent years amply demonstrate that the religious freedom we enjoy in the United States is one of the essential building blocks of our democracy.

What we tend to lose sight of, however, is the price we must pay for this religious freedom: we must commit ourselves to the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state even when the principle works against the interests of our particular religion.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This wise maxim, applied to the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state, has permitted the principle to drift into disrepair. People are encouraged to think that while there may be all sorts of borderline cases and vexing conundrums about just where to draw the line, examining them will only arouse anxiety and discord–so let’s just cover everything with a fine fog of pious, presumed consensus. We all honor the First Amendment and that’s that, and that’s fine. So it would be, if it weren’t for the steady pressure of those who would exploit our benign neglect, encroaching gradually on what makes the principle work–to the extent that it does.

For instance, the Christian conservatives in the country who wish to declare that this is a Christian nation are becoming bolder and bolder in their willingness to impose their own viewpoint on those who disagree. Fortunately, there are the beginnings of an organized resistance to this takeover, such as the Interfaith Alliance, chaired by Walter Cronkite. I enthusiastically support this effort, even though I am myself an atheist. Atheism is one of the live rails of American politics-touch it and you’re toast. Fair enough. Those are the current facts of life. Not so long ago, you couldn’t be elected if you were Catholic, or Jewish, or African-American. But shouldn’t we install another live rail, on the opposite side of the religious spectrum?

It ought to be just as much a fact of life that anybody who declares that their allegiance to their religion comes before their allegiance to democracy is simply unelectable. Fifty years ago President Eisenhower nominated Charles E. Wilson, then president of General Motors, as his Secretary of Defense. At the nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Wilson was asked to sell his shares in General Motors, but he objected. When asked if his continued stake in General Motors mightn’t unduly sway his judgment, he replied: “For years, I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” Some in the press, unsatisfied with this response, stressed only the second half of his response –“What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” — and in response to the ensuing furor, Wilson was forced to sell his stock in order to win the nomination.

Substitute “The American Baptist Church” or “The Roman Catholic Church” for “General Motors” and ask yourself whether you want candidates who waffle on this score to lead the nation. Even if it is true, as Wilson opined, that other things being equal, what’s good for GM is good for the country, people wanted to know which way he’d lean in the perhaps rare cases where he had to choose between what was good for the country and what was good for his corporation. They wanted him to put General Motors firmly in second place, and we want our politicians to put the welfare of the nation ahead of the welfare of their religion as well. If they won’t make a solemn pledge about this, we should worry.

Consider the situation in Turkey. There are radical Islamic groups intent on using the democratic process to vote in an Islamic state that would then throw away the ladder and abolish democracy, replacing it with theocracy. What should be done about this is not at all obvious. If the people democratically vote to demolish democracy, isn’t this just like a club voting itself out of existence? It would be the will of the majority, after all. In Algeria, harsh measures were taken in 1992 to avoid just such a democratic self-annihilation, with a vicious civil war resulting. In Turkey, such a calamity has been averted, or at least postponed. In 1996, an Islamic party won control, but the vigorous secularist reaction soon led to the resignation of the prime minister. A moderate Islamic party is now in power, and it has wisely restrained itself from any attempt to impose Islam on the nation, committing itself to preserving the secularism of the state.

In the United States, the problem is no less real for being less dramatic: There are many deeply religious people who believe that they may democratically impose more and more of their creed on the nation, by simply exercising their First Amendment rights to free expression and creating thereby a climate of opinion that renders opposition by secularists politically ineffective. This is a grave danger to democracy, more subversive, in fact, than anything Al Qaeda threatens.

Many of us believe that American democracy is the best hope of the world, that it provides the most secure and reliable — though hardly foolproof — platform on the planet for improving human welfare. If it tumbles, the whole world is in deep trouble. We therefore put the securing of American democracy — America’s secular democracy, with separation of church and state — at the very top of our list of priorities.

That is something worth giving our lives for, if it comes to that, but only because, and so long as, we continue to believe that America plays this role of political lifeboat for Planet Earth. Isn’t this what America asks of all of us? If so, then we must each ask ourselves: do we put the welfare of the nation above the welfare of our particular religion? If you cannot answer Yes to that question, you should consider that you are not a good American, but a part of the problem: you are taking advantage of American religious freedom without being prepared to pledge your support to the principle that secures it.

We are currently asking the Shiites and Sunnis of Iraq to put their allegiance to their nation ahead of their allegiance to their religion. We must surely ask ourselves, and especially our political leaders, to make the same solemn commitment.

 

 

 

Lead image courtesy of Ed Uthman.

Daniel C. Dennett
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  • Dinah

    I believe we should ask the Iraqis to place God over their religion; and the same here! Religions all have primitive roots. Our ascent in esence is escape from a synthetic reality;-an erroneous mind;-one formed by physical perceptions;-replaced by truths, which were buried; but entered from, and are realized deep in personal thought.

  • yest me

    Dinah:The Static on a TV screen has a REAL source. The rigor of your rhetoric leaves me wondering what you are actually saying. So I suppose this is an extreme condition where the problem is the conveying what the REAL thoughts one has in a manner others can understand. I’m left to wonder if you’ve conveyed them to yourself.You seem to be headed in the right direction, the separation of God and religion. Religion is a business like any other while God is a supernatural being mystery that includes a man for some. A man is always involved be he himself God or just God’s messenger. Ministers are God’s messengers are they not?Praying to God as you suggest can be counterproductive. Case in point is the Reverand John Wayne “punkin” Brown who’s rattle snake bit him while worshipping, as perscribed by the Bible. In spite of fervant calls by him and his congregation for divine intervention he died. That’s counterproductive unless one can take it as a sign from God, don’t worship with live rattlers, a really hard way to find out what God wants. Less extreme examples are numerous. Those who thought God would see them through Katrina for instance. They failed to understand that Katrina was an act of God, the real “Big Mamma” God known as Nature’s God.The most devistating thing one might do is pray to the Devil. Maybe God will forgive them but then that’s a bet the more intelligent will decline to make. The Devil does deliver the goods to some but not always. Those who lead others to hell reap the bounty anticipated by those who sell their souls. Perhaps the Reverand Brown was simply “called home” by the God worshipped. Notice that all supernatural beings are gods of one kind or the other, the bad ones being known as Devils.You mentioned Iraq. I can’t help but notice there’s an awfully lot of folks getting called home there and they’re praying hard according to news services. Maybe praying isn’t all it’s touted to be. Well, there is the possibility of praying to the wrong God and above all the Devil. Maybe the Iraqi should be more careful about which God they pray to. Don’t you think?

  • Bjorn

    Iraqi fundamentalists can’t separate God and religion. Where did you pull this hogwash out of? And let me just guess on the academic definition of equality: the value of one not being greater than another. Try writing a comment with rational thought instead of just stroking your God-fearing, poetic-rambling ego.

  • Jan

    There is a fine line to be drawn between someone who is devoted to his or her religion and someone who is devoted to the welfare of his or her religious institution. The former is someone to be respected for holding fast to his or her personal values and ideals, however erroneous those ideals may be.

  • soulsearch

    Faith and democracy are not interchangeable terms, unless the faith you are talking about belongs to a religion that has a divine intervention in the political life. Democracy is a concept, that no nation on earth has applied correctly. In the western world in general, the media determines what’s democratic and what’s not. People are driven like a herd. Let me give an example. Recently, the media has started promoting a new name in the 2008 presidential election. The media is simply preparing the nation for the “new subject”! Everything will revolve around that subject for the forseable future. If you don’t know what I mean, look up the list of US presidents in the past 25 years, all democratically elected and all showed very little competency. Some emotionally driven, some lack basic intellectuals to run an apartment building (let alone a country), and some purly driven by their personal urges! Yet all were democratically elected. Democracy is a tool used to sedate people who think they have it and scare governments with people who think they need it.What people really need is “knowledge”; and the “time” to apply that knowledge. Only then democracy would mean something. Faith also got abused by people. It is also used to sedate people by giving them a reason to believe that they have some tangible set of beliefs in their lives. However, the fact that people never visit what their moral beliefs are, right or wrong, distorted or not and so on, makes you wonder if the purpose of one’s faith is being taken out of context. As a religion, christianity really has no political legs or meaningfull influence on the basic day to day life. The evangilical movement in US is nothing but an extreme attempt to create (not take) a stand in life. Christianity offers no new law except that of the old testament. Evangilicals cannot apply that law in US because it is too conservative even for the most conservatives in this country. The fabric and the developments of the US society will delegate the conservative base into a weaker position, regardless how they presented themselves. At the end, too much emotions would lead to a breakdown (Iraq kinda rings a bell here)! “Protecting Democracy Comes Before Promoting Faith” is a nice title but an under statement, given the lack of basic understanding of the concepts involved and the realities of life today. Perhaps the author agrees with me in some way, but how would I know. I am not a philosopher!

  • yest me

    Jan, I don’t think people love God. They say they do but the head shrinker says we can only love ourselves. The only reason for me to love you is I get something in return, usually your love of me which is a manifestation of your love of yourself. We have all that in common.What do we have in common with God. God loves me so I will love God. I love God so God will love me. And if I don’t love God then God will not love me and I’m in a heap of trouble? Isn’t that the essence of all faith? Love God or else hell? Has more in common with rape than love.God’s love’s one of them thought twisters like con men use on their victims, a little old bridge or a family estate in south FLA. Trust me! Why he was such a fine Christian man officer…

  • Patrick R. Roussea

    I think the greatest blasphemy of one’s God in any monotheistic religion is the claim that puts him, her or otherwise to work as an instrument for dictating the parameters of human government. In fact it is a paradox. For how can that which is less than God claim to put God to work in any body politic? Consequently, understanding my limitations as human being, I leave off trying to influence the body politic to adopt my religious beliefs. That is God’s work and I am simply not up to the task! On the other hand I do try to influence the body politic to address those fears and concerns that affect me as a human being. Following my God, I vote my personal fears, preach my conscience, give unto CAesar that which is CAesar’s, and wipe the dust off my feet as I leave in peace those households that will not listen to the Good News. In fact, I separate my religious beliefs from my activities in government based on the explicit instructions given by my God for the spreading of his word. Unless I am mistaken, I don’t believe he added, “and when you have the power to make my word the law for all, stop wiping your feet of dust and make instead a Christian Nation.” Indeed, either my Bible errs or those who preach such an undertaking usurp the power and authority of he who died by crucifiction at the hands of the body poitic in order to carry my sins and provide me the opportunity for eternal salvation. I believe he was crucified in a GOD FEARING NATION.

  • yest me

    Patrick, you’re a salmon swinning up stream. The echos of history are the taking over of government by religion, not to be confused with God. God’s role is instrument alright, the almithty in the words of our president. God authenticates religion and religion takes over and destroys. The Roman empire, a pack of crooks collapsed in the face of all that Christian faith. Did Constantine see a juicier prize than all emperors before him, renderings to both him and God. He collected the taxes with both hands. Of course tithes are taxes paid to God’s representative, him.You seem to understand the futility of attempting to NOT render to Caesar. But you left out the rendering to God. It’s the renderings that makes religion what it is and it’s pure greed that makes religion take over countries, in the name of doing the divine will of course. Have you noticed who’s making all the trouble in Iraq? Could cause our president to change his opinion of religion and all the good it does for people. Maybe he’ll invite al Sadr, a holy man, one of great faith to give the blessing at the next white house prayer breakfast. Don’t you think?

  • liz

    Jane wrote Why? Why should I respect someone for holding tight to what might just be an insane worldview? Believing in a religion is not always a matter of principles – and I dont owe respect to crazy people, whether they believe in a God or whether they believe that all should be annnihilated a la Hitler.I don’t owe the present wackos in government a stitch of respect as they strip away people’s human rights and dignities and wages. For one, I think they hide behind this “holy” thing cynically, as they steal their way through life making it miserable for the rest of us. Not only do they believe in their one true faith, but they believe that monetary rewards signal their correctness. I recognise that it simply signals their greed and their corruption.Basically, Jan, you’re completely contradicting Dennet’s basic point, but since you’re all nicey-nice, you can think that you’re being a good guy, rather than the kind of “good soldier” rat Nazi that did the actual carrying out of Hitler’s final solution.People who are insane should not hold public office. People who believe in Apocolyptic Christianity are nut cases and should be institutionalised.

  • Doug

    If you were REALLY open minded, in addition to looking at the religious right’s attempt to impose their views, you would look seriously at MANY Christian’s objections to what they see as discrimination against their particular faith.In many places it’s OK to show a menorah or a Crescent Moon for Islam during the holiday season in a public place, but NOT a cross!The response from those imposing the restrictions usually have them trying to say that the Xmas tree is enough for the “Christian” Symbol…funny thing the Xmas tree has NOTHING to do with the religious aspect of Christmas.Myself…I’m a Zen Buddhist. So maybe I’m able to see what each side cannot. Which is an unwillingness to listen honestly to the concerns their opposites have.

  • Tonio

    “In many places it’s OK to show a menorah or a Crescent Moon for Islam during the holiday season in a public place, but NOT a cross!”Doug, I agree that such religious discrimination wrong and against the principle of government neutrality. However, I have read those stories and usually they turn out to be benign misunderstandings and misinterpretations, not sinister attempts to quash any one religion. But as I’ve learned from reading Snopes and other sources, people with agendas on all sides often pass along such stories without crucial details that contradict their agendas.

  • chuck

    The same old Liberal cant,from an atheistic philosophy professor. Hyperbole and fantasy, extremism and narrowness; without the windmills where would this Don Quiote be? Fears of a religous take over of America? Get serious. The poor hypochrisy of Liberalism: freedom to spread our beliefs but not yours. How sad.

  • DC

    History has rarely recorded a religion that believes in freedom of religion. Freedom of thought, belief and worship, is heresy and anathema to most religions; especially the monotheistic ones. Religon is not about freedom, it’s about adherance to a particular dogma. The first amendment seeks to protect freedom of belief from the tyranny of dogmatic religions. Which is why we must all support freedom above our own beliefs.

  • Stephen Hill

    You are a moron. Separation of Church and State is not mentioned in the First Ammendment, or he Second, or anywhere in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc. The First Ammendment states that Congress shall not interfere with religion. That’s it. It was meant to keep the state out of religion, not the religion out of the state. How an incompetent like yourself is a professor of anything baffles me.

  • Joel

    Mainstream Evangelical Christianity has become As long as you go to church and don’t have sex – you can do any crime you want agains mother nature, consumers, other nations.. Even to the point of invading and killing them on the basis of cherry picked intelligence as our President and Vice President did… And still “go to heaven”.I cite the developer, the politician, the gun-show dealer, the corporate lobbiest… if you hold yourself out as “Christian” and are yet engaged in these professionas you are likely immoral to the core… you just don’t have sex or drink, and I know where to find you on sunday… Impatiently waiting for the service to end.

  • Kurt

    KEEPERS OF THE TRUTH or FUNDAMENTALISM IN AMERICAWhat religious people have forgotten is that the diversity of protestant sects in America is astounding. And that those same sects and the Roman Catholic church fought for centuries in Europe over which was to be the state religion.There is no difference today. Once a sect got in “power” is would go about purging all the other sects from power just like 100 or 1000 years ago.Oliver Cromwell anyone? Perhaps the War of the Roses? Henry VIII. Vermont v Maine. Utah?The best policy is to keep religion out of politics. Have a non-secular government. Then all can live according to their beliefs and not interfere with the beliefs with others. Unless you think YOUR religion will prevail then your will have every assurance to go on fighting year after year, enacting law after law, until everyone who disagrees with you is either in jail or dead.And that’s the kind of democracy most religious people want (except presbyterians — some of whom are kooky, but not kooky enough to try to rule a country based on their religious principles when they know that to run a country a diverse country takes an education far beyond that of religious training — something Bush 43 did not know when he took the presidency and appointed all theose rank amatures to office) one where they can enforce their beliefs at the point of a gun.Althouth to their credit they have given Cheney blanks in his shotgun. And remember Democracy enforced at the point of a gun is the cruleist form of tyrrany, esp when you have not built the educational, legal, and mechanical social structures to support it.It seems the American people in the last election had greater sense than most of the Republican politicians after Geo W Bush was elected.Idiots.

  • nikto

    Fundamentalists of all stripes are Evil people hiding behind a sick, counterfeit version of “faith”.This is a fact, not an opinion–Unless you are a fundamentalist yourself, or a moral relativist.There is real faith, but

  • Jay

    Anericans United for Separation of Church and State, with a web site at http://www.au.org, has long labored in this important field. Readers who are not familiar with it should give it a read.

  • Guy

    Chuck. I’m puzzeled that you see “Liberalism” as so anger producing. Why are you so angry? I would like to know what the liberal values are that upset you so much. In my experience the “narrowness”, extremism”, “fantasy” and “hyperbole” seem to be spread pretty evenly across the ranks of ignorant throughout the world. Are you against education? Against thinking? Against looking at the other person’s point of view? If what you believe is working for you why is it you seem so intolerant?

  • disputatio

    I am glad that the Black (Protestant) Church democratically imposed its religious creed on America during the 1960s.

  • gerald

    The constitution is a pretty good read. It’s not the country one supports, but the principles of that country, assuming that the country hoves to those principles.

  • fs

    has anyone else noticed how venomous the “Christians” are when we discuss someone else’s religious rights?

  • disputatio

    Why is it that so many people appeal to what Jesus taught about morality, but ignore what Jesus taught about Himself? (And vice versa.) Let us take Christ in His entirety, or not at all!”But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:44-45aJesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

  • Jay B

    Anericans United for Separation of Church and State, with a web site at http://www.au.org, has long labored in this important field. Readers who are not familiar with it should give it a read.

  • mike

    Prof. Dennett makes no attempt to understand religion and therefore does not understand its role in civil society and more tellingly does not understand its role in fostering civil society in Iraq. The U.S. is not asking Iraqis to place the Iraqi state or its democratically elected government ahead of their commitments to either Sunni or Shiite Islam. It is asking them to find political and legal settlements that recognize and honor their religious differences. Many of the greivances between Iraqi factions are not particularly religious, but get talked about as Sunni vs. Shia because religion is part of the cultural topography that distinguishes the aggreived parties. Where religion either is the cause of conflict in Iraq or aggravates conflict, this is a failure of religion on its own terms, and therefore is a intra-Islam issue. Asking Iraqis to put the state before religion is another example of the sort of insensitivity to other cultures that got the U.S. into such a mess in Iraq in the first place. Getting back to the U.S., democracy works best when it is understood pragmatically and is framed in law as a “social contract.” Intrinsic to the idea of ‘contract’ is that the participating parties are motivated by prior, more fundamental interests but they find the contract a good way to achieve those interests (or least a compromise that is not inconsistent with those interests). In this sense, democracy should not try to elevate itself as equal to religion (ala Prof. Dennett) but as in Iraq should seek a consensual, law-governed civic order that makes its citizens free to pursue their prior, more fundamental commitments to things like religion or atheism. The founding fathers clearly understood religion as prior to democracy and an important constraint on human behavior that makes self-government possible. But humans are capable of corrupting both democracy and religion to the discredit of both. Finally, the religious commitment of citizens should be a check on the overreaching of government. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney asked clergy to disobey any immigration legislation that made it illegal for American citizens to offer material assistance to hungry or suffering immigrants. And good for him!

  • Paul G

    What a great perspective from Professor Dennett. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much use for all of the succeeding comments (several of which were obviously not proof-read).

  • richard

    The ideal of separation of church and state is somewhat unique in the US experiment with democracy. To ask (or suggest) folks in another part of the world to choose country over religion, may be an assumption on the part of a ‘true believer’ in idealistic democracy. Multiculturalism teaches us to listen to other viewpoints without moral judgement (See

  • Robert Gufler

    Although the founders of this great country embraced the teachings of Jesus, this is not a sect of Christianity. There were no judgements involved except of truth and openness onwhich our government is basedRobb

  • Peter

    “Liz, I think you’re a crazy person. You’re a wacko. I don’t owe you a stitch of respect; you can think that you’re a good person, but your flaming is stupid and annoying. You’re a nut case and you should be institutionalised.”Quit proclaiming that your opinion on everything is supreme (you’d probably say no but your post implies you’re better than all Christians). It makes you sound like an intolerant jerk.

  • Jessie Reynolds

    In response to all those who believe that not espousing a religion means that you have no moral guidelines:I was born to a Christian household. I rejected the idea of belief in an invisible force/being when I was about seven, when I learned about evaporation and water vapor and clouds. If the lovely cloud formations at sunset weren’t the “heaven” pictured in religious publications, (and the resemblance is astonishing), then I wasn’t about to fall for the “god is everywhere” and “he (he?) can see everything you’re doing” schtick.I have never distanced myself from religion. As a teenager, I made the effort to attend religious ceremonies of various Christian sects and was employed by an Orthodox Jewish couple. I have never found anything as convincing as “be true to yourself.” That may sound like a selfish point of view, but in my case being true to oneself has caused me to stand up for my beliefs and to lead by example. I rescue animals, feed homeless people, give to charities, house the homeless (sometimes for years at a time), and in general feel good about myself. I do not, however, ever feel the need to submit to a mythical presence in order to be a good person.Anyone raised in a family with a healthy respect for the rights, property and feelings of others has the opportunity to live a “moral” life. There is no need to call upon a faith in some religion that tells you that you must behave in such-and-such a fashion in order to “go to heaven” or “ascend to paradise” to justify behaving in a socially acceptable manner.Society sets the mores; religion corrupts them for its own purpose.

  • Patrick

    I find it interesting that people do not see that belief and religion are one in the same. And to ask people to suspend their beliefs (or religion, it’s all semantics) when dealing with the affairs of this country is foolish and wishful thinking.When the forefathers of this country developed the making of this democracy. They did so with an understanding outlined in the Declaration of Independence (2nd paragraph, first sentence), that the basis for the establishment of this country were truths endowed by the Creator (I might note that this is antithetical to the ahtiestic view). So it is clear that the founding fathers took into account their faith and beliefs when developing this country.The “separation of church and state” ironically was stated by Thomas Jefferson to support Baptists in the need to ensure that one religion could not be oppressed by another because one had support from the government and the other did not. In other words, the government could not sponsor any particular religion or prevent any religion from expressing that faith via any laws enacted by Congress. The purpose was to ensure that people could practice their faith without concern for anyone attempting to supress that practice.Now I understand people wanting to ensure that the state doesn’t sponsor any religious view, such as England with the Anglican church or Iran or even Turkey (who despite being a stated secular nation still has incorporated in it’s constitution that it is an Islamic country). But I see a clear assault on the “Free expression clause” of the 1st amendment, which is a clear byproduct of the mishandling of the “separation of church and state” issue by those who profess to defend it. How is children being removed from public schools because they pray or read the Bible in public free expression of religion. How this is no different than the persecution in Egland that caused the very creation of this nation. I do not know. Also, atheism in my humble opinion is a religion and belief not different from what I practice. The only difference is I believe in a higher being and atheists do not believe in the higher being. Their belief is in secular humanism. It’s all belief and religion.With that being said, the statement more or less from the professor is that this country in order to maintain the 1st amendment must practice an atheistic form of government. We must ensure that a person’s beliefs must be subordinate to the decision’s he makes related to the office he holds. I believe this is folly. The person I would fear is the one who believes in something, but is willing to suspend it in order to hold office. When our country gets to the point that we achieve that ominous distinction it will be a sad day indeed.

  • Curtis

    But what if the state itself is your religion?It’s not clear at all why belief in ethereal supernatural entities is an important qualitative distinction in a doctrinal framework. Surely, once we have allowed that these spirits do not actually violate the laws of physics, we are 9/10 of the way to atheism. How much can the other tenth matter?Confucians and Buddhists do not worship any God or gods. But members of both faiths can be quite devout. Nazism does not fit the Dennettian definition of religion. But it surely inspired a religious level of ecstasy – and would the actual horror of the Third Reich have been any different if Nazis had acclaimed Hitler as divine or divinely inspired, or resurrected the veneration of Odin? Would it require us to “tolerate” a Nazi church today?In fact, the strand of nationalist “democratism” that Dennett is endorsing was hardly born yesterday. It is just Reformation 2.0. It is least as Christian as any television preacher. It goes back to the transcendentalism of Emerson, to Unitarians like Channing, and ultimately to the Puritans and Calvin. Its denial that it is itself a Christian sect need not be taken at face value – it is essential to the primacy that this essentially Northeastern creed attained after the Civil War. Surely the worship of humanity and equality is an essential element of Christianity, as old as the Gospels themselves.The fact that this branch of Unitarianism is universally revered as the basis of our system of government, and that it is universally taught in our educational system, does not make it logical or scientific. It simply makes it a very successful organized religion – much as Catholicism was in its day. The word “catholic” simply means “universal,” and there is no better description of the position that this faith claims for itself.

  • Ross

    I think the fact that we are able to have this conversation without being arrested and thrown in prison makes Dr. Dennett’s point. I am grateful every day to our ancestors for making this possible, and hope we have the wisdom to keep their gift intact.As a cradle Episcopalian, I try to follow the teachings of Jesus as I conduct my life. I also think much of organized Christianity in this country has gone seriously off the tracks.

  • slevin

    I agree with Disputatio:I’ve noticed that the people who claim to be “God-Fearing” are more about fearfulness than anything else. My supicion– though this is a gross generalization– is that those people who cling to the fear, the anger, and vitriol fear liberalism and the freedom others, because they are so acutely aware of their own tendencies towards sinful behavior. This is the only explanation I can offer that would approach anything describing this as a reasonable reaction. The evidence of this lies in the numerable scandals involving the so-called evangelist preachers. They don’t have me fooled. I wonder sometimes if these guys have ever opened that part of their favorite book labeled “The New Testament” for anything other than to invoke the name of Je-sus. In the 18 years I spent attending church religiously (ha, a pun), I always felt like the New Testament was the one that was all about forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance of others.

  • Alan Smith

    I am amazed by the number of posts the question of God and the State gets in response to this article and the one from yesterday. It demonstrates how deeply embedded religion is in the US. Yesterday I wrote that this scares the other western secular democracies. Nobody seemed to get it. When the President of the US calls for the blessing of God on America this is unremarkable in the US. In Australia and Europe a leader calling for the blessing of God would be seen as unstable and dangerous. Frankly, they would be ridiculed not because they beleive in God but because they believe God will fix the nation’s problems. We prefer good government by humans rather than wishful thining. God will not pay for new hospitals or build new industires. God will not balance our budgets or bring down corporate governance legislation from on high. God will not provide universal healthcare.The US has much to offer the world without doubt. But look at the other western democracies that function. The US model is not the only one that works. We don’t call for the blessing of God and we have our failures but is there nothing the US can’t learn from from other western democracies? Its not that we hate the notion that people can have their God. Its just that we see this as very personal, too personal to steer the State.

  • David

    The United States has for too long looked outside the nation and found fault with the manner in which other societies have behaved, ignoring those faults only when it was convenient to do so to protect domestic political and U.S economic needs, often at the expese of democracy and the Earth’s physical environment. Instead of starting at home, caring and providing for Americans in need, they have concentrated on growing the wealth of the few at the expense of the many.. both inside and outside the United States.A Christian country takes care of its poor, its aged and infirm. The forty million Americans who live without health insurance are the startling proof that the United States has no claim to being a Christian country.Many countries scoffed at by American pundits ( take France for instance) do a much better job at day to day Christian brotherhood, and have always been more interested in equality, especially racial equality than their off-spring U.S.A.I see this – and I love America – the one I grew up with and learned to love as the real example to set the rest of the world – not the one we are experiencing that forces its people to rely on charity, and exposes itself to justified criticism, because of the arrogant self serving foreign policies that created what it claims to be a war against terror. Try elminating terror through eliminating the damage you are doing to the rest of the earths people.Be assured – these problems are not caused by the american people, but by a political system that is not based on Christian principles.Accessing the world’s cheap labour did little of significance for the poor working American.,It is excess amid the ignorance in which the American people are left by their government that

  • Alexander

    Although Prof. Dennett is one of the great geniuses of our time (read his books on philosophy of evolution and philosophy of mind if you doubt it), he misses the point on this one.There are not many Americans eager to put the interests of their religion above the interests of their country. There are, on the other hand, many Americans whose understanding of what is right and good for the Republic is defined according to values rooted in their religion.When you ask a former executive to state unequivocally that he will put the interests of the Republic ahead of those of his corporation, you are starting from the assumption that he has an idea of what’s good for the corporation and an idea of what’s good for the country, and that these are /in principle/ independent. He may believe that as a general rule, whatever benefits one benefits the other, but our concern is that there might be a case where what benefits one does not benefit the other. If that happens, he’ll know as well as we do–and we want to be sure that he’ll protect the national interest even at the expense of the corporate interest.A parallel question could arise in the case of religion if, for example, the question were the national interest vs. the interest of a church as an institution: for example, the Roman Catholic Church. Or a parallel question could arise in the case of a religious community, which is a group of people including some but not all Americans and some but not all foreigners: for example, the Jews. But the issue in national politics is not the Republic vs. the Church or the American people vs. the Jewish people; it’s various secular philosophies and ideologies vs. various religious philosophies and ideologies. And all these philosophies and ideologies, religious and secular, have their own takes on what is good for the Republic. If an evangelical Christian says on religious grounds, ban gay marriage (a position I do not share, incidentally), he is not saying: The national interest would be served if we allowed gay marriage, but it would harm my religion, therefore let us ban gay marriage. He is saying something quite different, to wit: My religion tells me that gay marriage is bad for this or any other country, therefore let us ban it. This is exactly comparable to the position of a utilitarian. The utilitarian does not say: The national interest would be served if we ban gay marriage, but gay marriage promotes utilitarianism, therefore let us allow it. He says: Permitting gay marriage will produce a great gain in happiness for gay people, especially those who wish to marry, and for those who care about them, and it will do so at little or no significant cost to anyone else’s happiness; therefore, utilitarianism tells me gay marriage should be permitted–and this is what is good for the country.Now, there are several responses that can be made to such an argument. One can argue, following Rawls, that arguments from religious premises or from other “comprehensive doctrines” have no place in a religiously diverse society’s political discourse. But if you make such an argument, you ought to admit that you are telling certain of your fellow citizens that they are not allowed to bring their deepest beliefs into public debate. And you ought not to be surprised that they take offense at this–and that it spurs them to fight harder for the place they think religion should have in public discourse. For the tiny minority of Americans–of which I am a member–who reject revealed religion to tell the overwhelming majority who accept it in some form that they may enter public debate only if they subordinate their values to ours is nothing but chutzpah. Another response, which I prefer, is to accept that in the short term, religionists can vote their religions, and focus on, in the short term, building coalitions on particular issues and, in the long term, moving the country toward a better view of the world. This has the advantage of treating our fellow citizens with respect and engaging them in just the sort of discussion they ought to be eager to have: a discussion about the fundamental truths of morality.

  • mary wyffels

    Dennet’s premise is that Islamo Fascists don’t really exist, they are just a few banded together…did he read the next article?? Islamofacism IS a political bent that that predetermined all nonmuslims to be the now familiar, “infidels.” Dennett claims to be an atheist, but is really a cheerleader for Isamofascists who welcome his vacuous objections. American was founded by our forefathers and the women who bore them ( ok our foremothers, too: ))who came here and established this nation to escape religious tyranny. The point that Dennet is missing is that they came to American to escape from the state founded religion, not to escape a state that disbanded, regulated, or forbade religions. Dennet apparently doesn’t realize that Jefferson and all of those silly guys who came over here referred to God b/c they believed in Him and their governmental inspirations and policies evolved from these beliefs. We hold these truths to be self evident… etc. It’s not a secret that some of Dennet’s cohorts want to sand off the word God from every piece of marble they could dream of getting their hands on. It’s ironic that a nation founded on principles of faith is being attacked from within by those like Dennet who want to pry off the armor that shields us from takeovers that are currently in progress in Europe. Time to stop the quasi spiritual rhetoric. You’ve got a Trojan Horse already in this country and its occupants are spilling out and occupying . Dennert’s vacuum is fertile ground for the spread of Islamofascism. More subversive than Al Qaida?

  • Zainab

    Subhanallah to George Crupper!I love your comments!!!! Thank you.

  • jaber

    unlike christianity (and this is in no way a criticism of christianity), islam provides day to day instructions on how you should live your life; such instructions include but are not limited to: how to divide inherited wealth, how you should dress, how you should make yourself clean before prayer, etc…add to that the ‘sharia law’ which is the islamic version of civil law, and you can’t help but have a region that puts religion before country. so, when you ask iraqi’s to put the well being of their nation before that of their religion, you are asking them to go against their religion, even though that is not what is being asked; the arabs, even after the introduction of islam to the arabian penninsula, were a nomadic people, religion is more ingrained in their minds than borders… every arab leader starts a speach by citing the name of god; where else in the world does that happen?the first step to solving a problem, is in understanding the motivation behind the antagonists, seeing it through their eyes and values, not yours. bad planning (or total lack there of) isn’t the main reason why the u.s. is having a difficult time in iraq; not understanding what effect your actions have in another part of the world is sure to lead to more problems than solutions. i know i’m stating the obvious here, but it seems that common sense has become the refuge of last resort rather than that which dictates policy.

  • SM

    One question for Mary: how many times does the word ‘God’ appear in the Constituion?Exactly – think about that number before you speak about this topic again.You Christofascists are no better than the Islamofascists you keep complaining about. In fact there’s a persuasive argument to be made that you are more dangerous – how many civilians have Christofascists killed versus Islamofascists? By my counting Christofascists are winning that battle by a score of something like hundreds of thousands for the former to thousands for the latter.

  • Mark

    Matt in Aberdeen,Alieviating poverty is a very good example of a religiously inspired humanist policy that has been proven to lead to stability accross the state in line with the basic concept of the Social Contract (read some John Locke). Religious inspired concepts very often a statistically and logically proven to be “Good” for society, but they are all not “Good” just because they are religious dictates.

  • John

    what most don’t understand is that there is no such thing as an “Iraqi Nation.” never has been, never will be. that’s at the heart of the problem and until successive American administrations get that through their head (i know it’s a hard sell), there will always be violence in iraq. unless of course a new dictator/authoritarian regime is installed, like what the iraq study group is implying.

  • Mark

    This is why the source of privately held inspiration must be separated from the political process. To allow the state to administer what works today from the largest pool of ideas possible.

  • Joanna Bryson

    There is an excellent article on the corrosion of religious freedom in the US armed forces in Salon yesterday: I’m not sure I share Prof. Dennett’s view that the US is the main beacon of democracy in the world anymore — many people are holding it up as an example of how things can go wrong! There are other countries with older (e.g. the UK) and more contemporary (much of the world) versions of democracy. However, I do think it would be both a great shame and very dangerous if America became more totalitarian, which is certainly what the current administration has been trying to do. Hopefully the new congress can find a way to reverse such events and block them from happening again.Interestingly, (also in Salon) Sydney Blumenthal claimed last week that the southern evangelicals Nixon stole from the Democrats are now driving every other proletariat group out of the Republican party — the libertarians and moderate protestants and a good chunk of catholics all switched to Democrat this election, out of disgust for big centralized government and evangelical values. It would be interesting if the institutionalized two-party system of the US resulted in one party for a single state religion and the other against it — is this really the most important issue in US politics?

  • Gerry

    Has anyone of you pious Christian guys really read the bible (not the selected excerpts you are served with by the Haggards (!), Myerses, Robertsons et al.)? Almost nobody has ever read it. I, an atheist, a fervent humanist, have read it thoroughly, and I have never read any book so appallingly full of blood, genocide, murder, sadism, revenge, greed, fraud, theft, injustice, aggression, war, superstition, exorcism, hate of anything resembling reason, let alone science, blatant antisemitism (“satan is their father”), hate against women (they are the “entrance to hell”), praise of slavery (Thurmond comes to mind). You really believe this to be the eternally valid and obliging word a “God”? And what about Luther? He recommended to kill all the Jews. (Look for it in Google).Religion – all religions – is the greatest millstone around the neck of humanity. Anybody in the possession of “truth” must forcibly kill anybody else who doubts this particular brand of “truth” – and that’s what we have seen through all of history as well as what we see today. The bible demands this killing of “infidels” explicitly in dozens of places, the Quran also, though, to my surprise, less frequently and apodictically than the bible. Anybody who doubts this tooth fairy stuff will burn in hell eternally, that is the divine promise of the “God of love and mercy” we encounter on every other page (little hope for me!). Just read for yourselves! On and on the bible, Old and New testaments, ramble about this sort of revenge.All wars were and are caused or at least camouflaged by religion. (Hitler strongly believed in “Providence” (“Vorsehung”), Bush is “born again” and talks to God, like Abraham, who was about to cut the throat of his son Isaac for an offering, in obedience to his “god”, etc.) “In God we trust”? Every German soldier, every German boy had “Gott mit uns” (God with us) written on his belt buckle – and they all believed it before they died, most of them anyway.I must refrain here from the creationist humbug – that is too far below the intellectual beltline.Gerry

  • IMOK

    Dear Prof. DennetI am not an Atheist, at best (or worst?) a waffling Agnostic. For years I have been flabbergasted by the absence of thoughts such as you express in the public discourse. Your comments seem so obvious to me in the context of our Constitution that I can only assume that it has been fear that has prevented more people, especially those in the public eye, from expressing themeselves in similar ways as you have. That in itself is a rather ominous sign for our Democracy.I thank you for your opening comments to this discussion.

  • Mark

    Patrick,You miss the point. Legistators are all inspired to bring ideas to the floor by something be it religion, humanism, experience, etc. This is 100% necessary. The problem is during the decisioning process. A religious inspired idea is not “the best” idea just because it is religiously inspired (remember there are many, many different religions and sources of inspiration that all believe they are best). All ideas must be vetted logically as to their impact on all of our lives (not afterlives) and the nation today.Any legislator that says X is the best policy because it is in any religious book such as the Bible is wrong. Instead, policy X, while inspired by a religious idea must have a supportive logical argument that is better than all other arguments in today’s real, material world.

  • boris

    if your president and other elected representant started to swear on the constitution instead of the bible it would look better, at least if you want to promote the idea of a separation of state and church.

  • Guy

    If humanists settled America and were faced with creating a government does anyone really think we would be any worse off for the fact that they were not Christians? I’m a humanist. I think that the prophet Jesus had some very good ideas about how to treat one another. I believe it is wrong to kill another human not because it is against a religious doctrine but because it is doing to another what we don’t want done to ourselves. It is not right to take anothers belongings or his wife. Why? Not because it is bad from a religious point of view but because in a society where we survive as a group it would weaken the group and it would hurt another human. Empathy is not a Christian concept. It comes with being human. If humanists had settled America there would still be greed and violence. People are flawed in many ways and whether you are a Christain or a Humanist the same behaviors exist. Democracy makes sense. It is not good because some people who had varying degrees of belief in Christianity wrote a document to guide the us in living together. It is good because it it gives to most of us the maximum freedom possible in a collection of dissimilar people.

  • JP

    It seems worth mentioning (since Mr. Dennett did not) that nowhere in the 1st amendment, the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence is the phrase “separation of church and state” used. It is a phrase spun by Thomas Jefferson in a personal letter to a Baptist organization quite a few years after the ratification of all those good documents mentioned previously. It is also worth noting that secularism, as Mr. Dennett would define it, is its own political movement, and a modern movement at that. Secularism is not a founding principle of this country. It is not a founding principle neither of “democracy” (in its truest, idealistic definition) nor of American republican democracy in it is actual form. Further, it is not a condition precedent for either ideology. I mention this not to disagree with Mr. Dennett’s overall thesis about where the country is best off going. I am conflicted on that subject. But I do feel that a certain amount of revisionist history has permeated this debate. At no time in our past has the wall between church and state been absolute. Quite the contrary, the “adrift” separation he speaks of has never been stronger. The greatest proof of this is the fact that the status quo has shifted, causing those who used to be the status quo to go on the offensive (and fail, in most cases).

  • eddie

    Much of this thread (and most often any discussion on this topic) misses the main point. First and foremost, the First Amendment is not about the origins of our government or our laws or democracy. So all discussion regarding whether or not belief and or religion is valid, or good or evil or indifferent, is simply irrelevant. The more atheists scream at “religionists” and vice versa, the more the need and brilliance of the first amendment becomes apparent to anyone who truly believes in this country and the real ideals upon which it is based. Arguments seeking to find the “original intent of the founders” in the fact that they used the word God or that they were members of some religion simply are conclusory statement made by zealots. It takes an extreme amount of intellectual hubris to think that we today can actually know how the Founders actually felt then and then to extrapolate the same to today’s facts.Here is the issue in a nutshell:The first amendment, if anything, provides that the government shall not establish a religion nor discriminate against same. That’s the easy part. Yes, the bible is an important book and the ten commandments are part of legal history, but there are no footnotes in the Constitution, which happens to be the law of this country, which state that our laws are to be made in conformance with the bible or that that is the source for the constitution or any other similar ideas.It really is simple: Laws are made by our elected representative. When those laws contradict the text and intent of the constitution then those laws may be invalidated by the courts. But the purpose of the consitution was precisely to limit the power of government and to keep religion out of the government, pure and simple. Anything else is simply mideval expression of the divine right of kings, and that is one thing that the founders expressly were against.I personally think that the pledge of allegiance should have the words “under God” removed, precisely because the founders would not have approved. And until the ’50s so did the United States.

  • Mark

    I’d also like to read author’s comments , thoughts on the democracy? in israel. why people keep ignoring that country which is the root of all terrorism and wars.

  • Ralph Ogden

    Amen to that!

  • Mark

    Boris,At Presidential Inaguations, what does the President sweat to do? The answer is “uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.” They do not swear to uphold the Bible! Think a little.

  • a thorsten p

    First, Professor Dennett: Thank you for bringing good writing and clear thought to this odd feature of WaPo. You’ve got the SBC guy beat by a country mile. Central to my civic education was the statement by my high-school poli-sci teacher: Democracy is our secular religion, the Constitution our Bible. And that’s why i’m in law school now, though–considering the current administration–my course of study seems quaint.Then to Ms. Wyffels: You, like many, are under the assumption that the pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution. No, they left England for Holland due to some persecution, then left Holland because they refused to assimilate and abhorred the plurality of the Dutch (thanks for New York, guys!). This is part of my heritage as the descendant of a Maflower Compact signatory, but the pilgrims wanted to be able to persecute others, otherwise they wouldn’t have held the natives–and the Dutch–in such contempt. Religious freedom, my foot!Finally to JP and others who think secularism both recent and extrinsic to democracy: The founders of this sometimes great nation were, by and large, hardcore deists. They weren’t atheists in the modern sense, true, but when it came to religion and state, Federalist #51 put it best: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Those subjunctives really put it into perspective, don’t they?

  • disputatio

    Hey Boris,When the POTUS swears to uphold the Constitution of the USA, what book is it that he is swearing on? Think a little MORE.Ha! Ha!i couldn’t resist!

  • realist

    Well if Jesus saves

  • realist

    Actually, I remember now, the line is from Jethro Tull.

  • Wade

    I’d prefer to judge people by their observable actions, not by their invisible internal belief system. I care where they end up, not where they start or what label they use. I’d prefer someone with tolerance, honesty, integrity, humility, who was trustworthy, respectful of others, not paranoid and not quick to assign blame. I ‘d like someone who believed in consequences and transparency and accountability, who didn’t let their authority block their ability to listen well. These are generally the traits listed in FM 22-100, the US Army Leadership Field Manual, as well as in most religious creeds, as well as in the safety culture which is key to any high-stakes, high reliability organization. I believe that most Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Democrats, and Republicans who have those traits, and each group has some fringe that does not share those traits, including those that want to use violence to impose their belief system on everyone else. There are even those who have let “Science” or “Freedom” or “Democracy” become religions. It may be best to keep our eyes open and brains engaged and judge each case on its merits, not on blind stereotypes.

  • Doug Petersen

    Many of the social constructs employed in the formation of The United States of America’s democratic system were born out of the Reformation. The fact that synods, presbyteries, and essentially the empowerment of the layman of the congregation, was inherent in the creation of Prostestant churches (Lutheran and Reformed)led thereby to much of what became this representative Republican form of government. This is simply the nature of the roots of the people who created the legal framework of this country.To think that all Faiths will blend neatly into this construct is to confuse Faith with Government. Not all Faiths are so cultivating of the worth of the Individual as is the Protestant Faith, either in the individual’s relationship to their God or to each other. As a result, it is more incumbent on the respective Faith to adapt to this Republic than vice versa.Given the chasms that exist between Faiths it does seem unrealistic that a multiplicity of all Faiths can exist in any democratic framework without erupting into physical conflict at some point. Lebanon is an excellent case in point. Even countries with long democratic histories such as France will likely be riven apart in the coming 50 years as natural Christian and Muslim divides grow more political with the rising percentage of the French Muslim population imposing its religious views through the ballot box.The United States must remain true to its roots to retain continuity. That these roots are heavily predicated on Protestant Individualism has been the country’s strength and should not be shorn for some confused concept of greater brotherhood that we wish existed but evidently does not.

  • off school-sick, at least im reading the washington post

    Mabey the problem is that you guys have a constitution that people in sharp suits can argue over rather than a no less codified but more gradual idea of what it means to be American. Things will be ok – America is still a very young country – none of you guys ever think about that because of how BIG things are over there.

  • Jay

    Government should remain secular. Religion is an opiate of the masses. Poor people (people from the south) cling to it because it gives meaning and validation to their otherwise bleak and worthless lives. What a bunch of losers.

  • off school-sick, at least im reading the washington post

    Im 16 jay how about you????????? I dont believe in god but i believe that people need hope derived from other people – NOT PEOPLE LIKE YOU

  • C.C. Millah

    Doug, your claim that our democracy is based on protestantism is commonly used by evangelicals, and is completely false. The roots of our democracy (Democritus, 460 BC) influenced early protestants, as they influenced the Founding Fathers. But even the most casual reader of American History knows that those Fathers feared the influence of religion on the new American Democracy (“They (preachers) dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live” – Thomas Jefferson). Professor Dennett’s point in this article was that church and state ought to be separate; yet most of the comments posted here are religious rants that cloud the waters and obscure his very point.

  • Michael Eure

    To place your country before your religion is really something no one should consider. The word ” religion” comes from the Latin root meaning ” to connect” so asking someone to put their country before their “connection” to the universe is absurd. So the question really is one of “how do you conceive of God” If your God encompasses all things it’s impossible to place this before your country. It’s like putting the cart before the horse. Alas, there are many who have a narrow view of their connection and there the problem arises that perception precedes the truth and a narrow view is imposed on all. God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

  • ABDIRAHAMAN ALI

    THE ONLY PROBLEM IN THIS WORLD IS THE M/EAST

  • phaedrus

    Michael:You just succinctly espoused the position of jihadis everywhere.

  • William D.

    Well, if only Philippines can separate the Church and the State (as it should be)then maybe we can move forward. If faith means goodworks and honesty, then what is happening now with Philippine politics – a Roman Catholic-dominated politics. Maybe, it’s time for some deep reckoning, huh?

  • Debbie

    “By their fruits you shall know them.” The fruits of Christo- and Islamofascists and Zionists is/are death and destruction. The problem in the Middle East/Northern Africa is Zionism and the US support of same. If it weren’t for US support of Israel and their mad grab for land, 9/11 would never have happened. Americans bemoan the fact that Muslims call the US the great evil, yet the US policies in their part of the world proves them to be right.

  • Phil

    Secularism is nothing but anti-Christian hate cloaked in silk. This has nothing to do with separation of church and state. The motivation of the “secularists” is simply not the protection of civil rights but the denial and removal of any hint that this nation was founded on European Christian values. You need not do anything except turn on the TV and you’ll see the anti-Christian propaganda spew forth.

  • SqueakyRat

    This is the most depressing comment thread I have ever labored through. Our country is riddled with half-wits.

  • Dave

    The reason we are losing this war is because too many people use faith and religion as a political tool. If our Government really knew anything about how faith works, either here or in Iraq, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Democracy is an important concept, but let us not kid ourselves, we do not live in a very democratic country. There is so much polarization that our government is in a state of gridlock. Our primary problem is not separation of church and state – its that politicians and media people think of themselves as Gods!

  • djlicious

    Jan:”A person who puts his or her religious values before the practice of democracy, however, should at the very least be respected for his or her courage and strength of will–not be banned from or in any way discriminated against in governmental elections.”Jan believes Osama bin Laden deserves our respect for his courage and strength of will.

  • Chris

    I believe that the article in question overlooks the complexity that is religion in its relation to the state. Dr. Dennett has simplified the manner in which one may relegate his/her faith into a particular space in his/her life, while holding a higher allegiance to the state in which he/she lives. This may be possible with a tradition that has been domesticated or one that shows no distinction between religion and state, but it has been my experience that most faiths hold a vision of what it means to be a nation. Further, it has been my experience that most people (at least in spoken word) hold their faith and the mores that have derived from this faith above all else. Now, I do not mean for this to devolve into a theocracy because that would only address one specific deity and one specific tradition of worshiping that deity. Rather, I believe it is imperative that every religious tradition acknowledge and affirm the other in a pluralistic view. Thus, the necessity becomes community and the recognition and honor of every person’s voice and thought. This is not the compartmentalization of faith and it is not the domestication of faith; this is the epitome of faith governed by love. And as the Apostle Paul wrote, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.There is a point in one’s faith development when the need to express one’s conviction for conversion fades and is replaced by the desire to express one’s conviction in love for the other with no other agenda. That is why I respectfully disagree with the professor, and would instead suggest that what our religious leaders must do is not designate a boundary in which religion may prosper for the individual, but lead us onward in thought, reflection, and contemplation, in love, justice, and hope, and perhaps most, in peace and humility. In doing so, our religious faiths may find rest not in regulating themselves, but in regulating our own self-interest. That, in my mind, is the ethos necessary for a proper democracy – the moment when shalom becomes not just a vision for the self, but for everyone.

  • Christopher Kobar

    I applaud Prof. Dennett and those of like mind who seek to elevate the volume of discourse that stands to counterbalance the traditionally loudest philosophical camp touching on religion and government, the conservative evangelical Christians. This is not to say that I believe religion should be washed from public life or we, as Americans, should be publicly pressured to hide our religious proclivities, but rather to say that it is high time that those who recognize the hypocrisy of our nation demonizing those who follow fundamental concepts of Islam — women wearing headscarves, belief in a particular version of an afterlife, a sense of religious duty — or any other religion while simultaneously defending uniquely Christian fundamental concepts — gays are evil, contraception is a sin, etc. — not only in their personal lives but in our government (which would impose those beliefs by force of law on all Americans) gained some degree of political and intellectual respect. If more people had stood up to Hitler’s “philosophy” despite the public pressure of Nationalism and the threat of real recrimination, the extremes of Nazism — e.g., the Holocaust — might have been averted. It is Prof. Dennett’s intellectual courage that encourages me that, while his own complete worldview may not precisely align with my own, at least we may be able to avert the potential disastrous extremes of our nation’s own charismatic fundamentalists. FINALLY, on the subject of Iraq and Islamofascism in particular, I do not see religion as the real cause, but, as it has always historically been, simply a useful means of motivation and rhetorical justification for more ingrained bigotry, revenge for perceived historical wrongs, and simple human exasperation that results from long-standing failure of economic, social, political, and even familial systems with no perceivable positive change in fortune in the near term. To seize on mere religious differences and to define these dangerous extremists by these theological differences is to only serve their very cause and to add fuel to the fire. Rather, we should be looking past the facade they themselves seek to use to draw a vivid line between them and us to focus instead on the very real “broken” systems that have led to their exasperation and susceptibility to recruitment by charismatic extremists who, individually, are driven by a personal sense of needing a “place in history” — also called megalomania.

  • Loadmaster

    Reading these threads..gives me a headache. I can’t believe some of the misquoted, non-understanding, lack of facts ever in response to ONE individuals idea. No wonder we’re in the shape we’re in! Folks, you need to get back to basics. Some of you need to get a life. You will need it. If your wrong..your in deep trouble and if your right..I’m in deep trouble. Wake up America!!!! We will never let “the chosen people” be attacked. Never..never and never. My last thought is..enjoy life..it’s too precious to just let it hang in limbo with no meaning.

  • Ba’al

    Reading this thread convinces me more than ever that organized religion — all of it — is a cultural parasite that is very very bad for its host. (I do not claim that this is not an original idea).One of the things I find especially annoying is the idea that religious ideas are deserving of “respect” even if they suggest things like “our troubles emerge from the fact that a woman once ate an apple on the advice of a talking snake”; a concise rendering of the Christian concept of Original Sin. People are willing to kill each other over this kind of nonsense.

  • David

    Why is it we tend to give great credence to an editorial just because the author has initials behind his name? I find a lot of postulating in this editorial but not a lot of deep thinking.

  • Nicole

    I have not read all the posts, although what I have read is sincerely interesting. I would like people to know that believing in God is an act of faith, but it is not always an act that comes from nothing. Just because you haven’t seen it, does that mean it doesn’t exist? There are many things scientists have yet to see, like dark matter, but they still believe in it. So just because you have been so unfortunate not to experience the presence of God, does not mean everyone who has is a wack job. Secondly, I believe the purpose of the article was to ask about those who put their religion before their country, not whether or not those who believe in God are insane. And yeah, I agree, that if your religion is asking for something potentially harmful to a good many people then no, it should not come first. However, if those who believe in God and are Christians, which is not a religion by the way, want to do something to help their fellow man, like running for president, then should they not be allowed to? Secularly, an atheist, or someone who is devoid of religious value, also lack the upbringing in morals. I am not saying they have no morals. But morality began with religion. So I find their morals questionable if they do not believe in God and have the fear that something will happen to them if they do not act in a fashion that is moraly acceptable. I am not saying follow a certain religion, but if you have nothing higher than the self to believe in, then what is to keep the self in check?

  • johnny

    Israel’s mad grab for land? If I recall, the lands they have occupied (and returned in some cases)came to them after armies from several Arab nations attacked them with the intent of destroying their nation. A nation that was recognized first by the Soviet Union.The Palestinian diaspora came about because of the rejection of the UN plan for Palestine and an ill-placed confidence in the might of the Arab warrior. Those that left felt they would shortly be able to return. Even with that the Muslims still had Jerusalem,today’s ultimate prize, until 1967Maybe the Islamofascists should take a moment and think about Jerusalem being taken from them as a sanction for their choosing the violent side of Islam.

  • Amjad Wyne

    Very good advice but meaningless when it comes from those that not just pulverized an entire society but did so by emphasizing the ethnic and religious divides.

  • frankdecker

    Americans will never go for this. The 1st amendment is paramount to everything else in this nation.

  • John Douard

    The point of Jefferson’s reference to a wall separating church and state in his letter to the Baptist organization was that the First Amendment establishment clause would guarantee freedom of religious belief. The “wall” metaphor was his interpretation of the establishment clause, and he had considerable hermeneutic authority. He, and most of the founders, had no interest in imposing a state religion. If they preferred a “constitutional faith,” as Sanford Levinson put it, they meant essentially what Dennett means when he descries putting faith above allegiance to our liberal constitutional democracy. As Levinson has also pointed out, toleration may also be dangerous to democracy, as we see in the authoritarian, theocratic pressures coming from the religious right. Dennett was making a political point, and not a metaphysical point about the connectedness of everything or the importance of religion to our commitment to liberty and equality. It is true that an element of our modern notions of liberty and equality is rooted in the reformation’s insistence on the right of every individual to interpret the “text” (e.g. bible), and Jefferson’s letter makes a similar point. But it does not follow that religion is necessary to our current understanding of those values.I would like to note also that “atheist” (and I am one) just means literally “not a theist.” So in a sense, the deist founders were atheists, as are people who have a general sense of our place in a cosmic spiritualism. None of these non-theistic views, in contrast to certain versions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have as an aim the securing of a theocratic state that would eliminate open expressions of other faiths as well as atheism (or agnosticism, whatever that is).

  • Herb Stahlke

    Professor Dennett’s essay is almost on target. His mistake is in equating American denominationalism with the role of Islam in an Middle Eastern state. Islam recognizes that final authority is God’s and places this authority in the hands of a council of scholars, the elders and legal scholars of the community. The idea that the people are the final authority, the basic tenet of all Western democracy, is antithetical to Islam, where the people can’t do anything that the council does not approve. To the extent that Islamic democracy is not an oxymoron, Iran is as good a case of an Islamic democracy as one could ask for: they have free elections, but the candidates must all be approved by the Iranian equivalent of the umma. Their parliament can pass laws, but those laws are subject to review by the religious council and can be overturned by the chief ayatollah.The fact that the Bush White House lacks this fundamental understanding of Islamic political theory means that their Middle Eastern policies can only be ill-conceived or worse.Herb Stahlke

  • Tom Wright

    Alexander, above, raises a good argument about politicking for the principles of one’s religion being both valid and unavoidable. I don’t feel Dennett was arguing that people should refrain from that. Promoting a gay-marriage ban, justifed by either social results or Biblical imperative, is fair game.

  • IS

    We are all of that which IS, has no name and cannot be known. All IS. Only infantile carbon based life forms believe themselves to be special, embued with talents far exceeding their place in the universe. These forms are no more than nutrient for other entities. A mere pebble has more meaning in the universe than any identifiable life form.

  • Matt in Aberdeen

    Daniell Dennet writes:”. . . we must each ask ourselves: do we put the welfare of the nation above the welfare of our particular religion? If you cannot answer Yes to that question, you should consider that you are not a good American, but a part of the problem: you are taking advantage of American religious freedom without being prepared to pledge your support to the principle that secures it.”Fair enough. What happens when religious believers manage to convince a majority of Americans to use the power of government to impose religiously prescribed practices on everyone, believers and unbelievers alike? Here are two examples.A libertarian may believe that each of us is entitled to the fruits of his labor. If he feels like donating some of his wealth or income to the poor, the widows, the fatherless — that’s fine. But he is within his rights to keep it all for himself.The Bible tells us otherwise. Is what the libertarian possesses really “the fruits of his labor” alone? “Beware . . . lest when thou hast eaten and art satisfied, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord . . . and thou say in thy heart: ‘My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.’ But thou shalt remember the Lord . . for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17, 18)Since it’s not really all the fruits of your labor, it turns out that “If there be among you a needy man, one of thy brethren, which are in thy gates . . . thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy needy brother; but thou shalt surely open they hand unto him . . .” (Deuteronomy 15:7,8). And you’d better not afflict the widow, or the fatherless child: “If thou afflict them in any wise — for if they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry — My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:22-23). Once the Bible-believers can convince the democratically-elected legislature that everyone owes a duty to the widows and orphans, to the poor, to the aged and infirm and the crippled and disabled and the deaf, dumb and blind, the government can use force to take some of the fruits of the libertarian’s labor away from him and spend it on welfare, old-age and disability payments, and the like. It’s too bad if the libertarian doesn’t believe in all those Bible quotes above. He has to pay, anyway.A second example is our criminal justice system. Sometimes, killers get locked up for life. Sometimes, they get put to death. But nothing we can do to a killer, not even the death penalty, can ever bring his victim back to life. The way to save lives is to lock up as many potential killers as we can *before* they kill anyone.Maryland has a “Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.” Now, “correction” is a concept based on such Christian values as “redemption” and “hope” and “rehabilitation.” It’s a fine concept as applied to shoplifters and petty drug dealers and the like. If one of these people is let out of prison after having been “redeemed” and “rehabilitated,” and goes back to shoplifting or petty drug dealing — well, that’s a risk we ought to be willing to take. They don’t really endanger the public safety.Criminals who threaten death as part of their crimes are another story. They point a gun or a knife at someone and say, “Give me your money, or the keys to your car, or your body — or else I’ll kill you.” And let’s say they the victim of such armed robbery or armed carjacking or armed rape complies, and the criminal is caught and convicted. Public safety, based on common sense and experience with recidivism rates, tells us that if we let him out of prison while he is still young enough, strong enough, fast enough and rash enough to repeat his crime, it is quite likely that he will do so. And his next victim may not comply, or may comply too slowly with his demands, and he may use his deadly weapon to kill such a victim. But we set him free anyway when his term is up, even though he may be in his twenties or thirties and fully capable of endangering the public again. To anyone who is not religious, this is as unimaginably preposterous as the idea of Zombies! If we’re going to set him free while he still has his weapons of youth, speed, and strength, why not give him back his gun or knife as well when he goes out the prison gate?Clearly, the Department ought to run two kinds of prisons. Experienced trial judges, elected and periodically re-elected by the people, ought to have the option of sentencing criminals either to a “corrections” prison which will try to rehabilitate them, or to a “public safety” prison which will keep him locked up until they are too old and feeble to repeat their crimes. But as long as Christians can keep lawmakers believing that “hope” and “redemption” are more important than public safety, we will continue to see innocent victims killed by repeat violent offenders. And all of this because religious dogma has been ratified by a majority of voters and imposed on everyone, just as in the case of welfare programs for the poor, the widows and the fatherless.

  • Les Caine

    Give to Caesar the things that are Caesars’ and to God the things that are God’s. For many religion and politics go hand in hand. I believe Jesus got it right. The separation of church and state is a natural evolution of true christianity. By all means make informed moral choices, but start with oneself.

  • Mary

    My husband is a military reservist. He has served in most of the recent military conflicts in one way or another, including Iraqi Freedom. He could have retired from the military a number of years ago, which I wish he had. When asked why he continues to serve, one of the reasons he gives is, “because I believe in fighting to preserve the right to worship or not to worship, to believe or not to believe (in God).” My husband and I are Christians, but we fervently believe that the right to choose not to subscribe to any religion must be protected. We have in the Middle East perfect examples of why you must protect everyone’s right to worship or not worship as they please.

  • Tony

    First of all the US government is a religion you can prove it to yourselves if you want there are many good books that will help you. Second for some of you who would say or think that God is a mystery then I say go out side and take a look. The world spins in perfect harmony. The sun rises and sets every day. The stars shine everything is explainable the only thing that is not is the word mystery. God creates everything so if he wants to just leave it alone then it is his right.

  • J

    I’ve questioned the fundamental ideas of religious faith for as long as I can remember. As a child I would sit in church with my family and wonder what the big fuss was about. The idea of a supreme being “God” and Jesus as Messiah/Savior/Son of God/etc didn’t make sense to me then, and after years of thinking on the topic, still seems kinda’ silly. I think religion is a crutch for people who feel small by themselves and need to feel a part of something larger to bring more “meaning” to their lives.That said, I don’t agree with those who say the world would be a better place without religion. I think things would be pretty much the same but with lines drawn between groups for different so-called reasons.

  • CK

    Dear Santa,I want an xbox and a pony and a race car, and a box of coal for my little brother. Thanks Santa, see you soon.

  • Joshua Case

    I want to state right off the bat that I respect your opinion. Everyone is entitled to one. However, I find it interesting that you are almost scared of the Christians in this nation because you are an atheist. I just wonder why you are scared of someone, be it Christ or God, that you do not believe. It would be like me being scared of unicorns which makes no sense because I belief that there never was nor will be a unicorn. I think it is about time we drop the debate of faith and politics. The seperation of church and state has nothing to do with the seperation of God (or faith) and state. It is about time Christians, Atheists, People of all sexual orientations and beliefs join together to fight for what is right. What is right? A fight for the reestablishment of morals. Our country is crumbling under promisquity and weak parenting. I have been living in Washington D.C. this fall and have seen how the AIDS epidemic is 12 times greater here than it is anywhere else in the country. It is about time we stand together, all of us, no matter what faith, and struggle for those who are hurting and dying. God, through Christ, not only came to show his love to the world, but to leave an example of how to live. Jesus was just as concerned with the salvation of souls as he was the helping of the poor and the widow. Whether you believe he was a prophet or God, he is an example of how we should work together to better the lives of those less fortunate than we are.

  • J

    For Mary…I recently left the reserve because I don’t agree with our being in Iraq, and don’t want to go off to fight for ever-changing reasons. I’m not sure how your husband ties the US Invasion of Iraq to religious freedom. I never found my ability to worship (or not worship) threatened…has he? By Saddam Hussein? By the Iraqis? By Osama bin Laden even? The answer is no.I think your husband is just grasping for reasons to justify our country’s actions in Iraq and this mythical threat to religious freedom is one of the cheapest ways to make people feel passionately about staying in Iraq. Tie it to religious freedom and few will have the guts to speak out against it.

  • J

    Matt,

  • Spencer

    Can you put your religion before your country and still be a good citizen? I would say, “Yes.” There are Christians who are motivated by their faith to be law-abiding, tax-paying, honest citizens, yet they choose not to go to war . . . for ANY country. They have often been imprisoned by nations on both sides of a war for that reason. Their successful arguments in the Supreme Court have strengthened the rights of free speech for all Americans. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and if everyone gave “Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God,” as they try to do, you could call a war for which no one would show up.

  • doug

    Nicole:I believe that people can have “good” morals without resorting to a divine source. There is something called the “conscience” which is not exclusive to only those who believe in an omnipotent creator. The conscience involves empathy, compassion, and love. Those things are awakened by the love of parents and siblings, the relationship with animals, with friends, and one day with a lover. Is there a divine source for all of this? Perhaps. I don’t have a problem with people believing that. However, i think that your “fear that something will happen to (you) if (you) don’t act in a fashion that is morally acceptable”, is not much different from the fears instilled by any society that imposes a code of behavior of on it’s members- true since the beginning of culture. The rulers of societies have always had a wonderful knack of associating themselves with God, so as to get people to tow the line. I do think there is valuable knowledge and valuable models within religious schools of thought. I personally think there is a great deal of wisdom in Zen Buddhism. It’s a religion of sorts, more of a philsosophy I guess.

  • jimmy

    If you not a Chiristan, you don’t belong in the USA. America is for Christians!

  • Chickenring

    I think it’s wonderful so many intelligent people are throwing their two cents into this discussion. I got only a penny so I’ll keep it short. Instead of all bickering about what the awesome Dennett wrote.. WHY does this “On Faith” section even exist? How annoying is this? Who cares? People still actually BELIEVE this stuff? I didn’t know. I mean, I remember in college, there’d be the Christian Fellowship.. the Korean Christian Crusade for Christ.. but they all struck me as cookie parties, ice cream socials and chances to watch “The Passion of da Christ”. My only point is, it’s annoying to see a huge section called “On Faith” and then tease us intellectuals by having Dennett in there. Now we HAVE to click in and read!! Why couldn’t you just keep it with religious people, saving us a few clicks. Thank you.

  • Darrel J

    Dr. Dennett,Thanks for this article, again promoting the rational over the supernatural. THAT’s what our nation was founded on. That and a belief that all people are equal and can live together no matter what their faith. The argument that Dr. Dennett is using is that faith should not trump humanity. The destruction caused by people who band together in the name of their dieties to exterminate/subjugate/convert their enemies is quite real.As for religion being the only basis for morality, I would suggest that people read a little. Humans were moral long before they had established religions –that was the only way that the hunter/gatherers could cooperate. Morality is hard-wired into our genes.About the unicorns: it’s certainly true that unicorns can’t hurt you, but a nation filled with true belieivers can be truly threatening.

  • candide

    Promoting Faith: when I see something about a Missionary Society, doesn’t matter which one, I laugh. Missionaries are those who think they can convert people happier than they are to their own ridiciulous set of superstitions. Just imagine, converting happy pagans to the stupidities of the Baptists or Catholics or Mormons!

  • smafdy

    Nicole:…”Just because you haven’t seen it, does that mean it doesn’t exist?…No. But, the fact that you claim to have seen something that isn’t there is certainly cause for us to doubt your sanity. Your statement presupposes that those who haven’t “seen” (found) god haven’t taken the numerous opportunities offered to them by the various religions to take a look – we have looked, diligently, but we do not see that which the “faithful” claim is obviously there.Honesty is a virtue. Honesty to one’s self is key to honesty in all matters. Who is more honest – the person who claims to see, but does not, or the person who can’t bring themselves to participate in the self/group-delusion/lie (under the threat of exile or worse)?”…those who believe in God and are Christians, which is not a religion by the way…”You’re joking, right? In a sense, you’re correct. Christianity is not a religion, it’s a political device reliant on a false pretext/premise to prey on the inherent need for the individual to belong to a tribe (either believe and belong, or disbelie and be shunned). This tendency towards tribalism is brought to the forefront by your next statement:”…Next, you claim: “…morality began with religion…”Bunk. Morality, like religion, is an inherent tendency of man. In most cases, morality is culture/situation specific. Religion may be many things, but morally correct is seldom one of those things. Now, I ask you to take a look at the history of the world as it relates to religion (including Christianity), and tell me if you see what I see.And finally, to answer your question, “…but if you have nothing higher than the self to believe in, then what is to keep the self in check?…”, Earlier in your diatribe, you point out that it’s fear – not love of god – that keeps the “moral” person in line. Religion is driven by fear, not love.The answer to your question: Personal integrity and honesty to one’s self in all things will keep the truly observant person on the correct side of the moral divide. If I am so weak in my personal conviction and integrity that I let the threat of possible personal harm (in the “afterlife”, no less) by and unseen and apparently confused and incoherent deity, should I not conform to that alleged deity’s need to be worshiped blindly, I have placed myself in an environment that allows the commission of every type and degree of immorality. In short, I have been intelectually dishonest with myself, and no man should expect honesty, morality, or just treatment from me.

  • chickenring

    Nicole, have some apple juice and a Chips Ahoy.

  • Mike Dishnow

    Faith loses its legitimacy when it is counterproductive to the best interests of society. The prevailing attitude that places one’s stated religious beliefs “above the fray” is misguided. It is time for religious views to be placed under the same scrutiny we reserve for other domains.Fear of upsetting “persons of faith” is placing a handicap on scientific and medical advances, as well as interfering with the basic freedoms we have come to enjoy as Americans. Ideology increasingly displaces legitimate scientific research. People making far-reaching decisions, at the highest levels, are chosen for their ideological purity rather than their professional qualifications. All too often, decisions appear to be made to appease a vocal minority. On September 27, 2006 the newly formed Scientists and Engineers for America (SEFORA) launched the website, http://www.sefora.org. Scientists and engineers have a right, indeed an obligation, to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research. (SEOFA website)We close the door on the results of legitimate scientific inquiry at our own peril.My hat is off to Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. It is time for the rest of us to “come out of the closet” and bring the United States in line with the secular views of most other western democracies. We avoid critiquing religious fate at our own peril.

  • TKH

    God did not create religion, man did. God created the church, he did not say it was Catholic or Muslum, or anything else. Religious denominations are simply groupings of people who believe basically the same thing. Over 90% of those who claim a religious affiliation, do so because of the family and neighborhood they were born into, not because a concious decision. Brain washing at its worst. Any one of us could have just as easily been born Muslum as Christian or Jewish or a Budist.Understanding the above leads me to one conclusion, the laws our country should be put before an single religion. On a personal level, religion has its place as a vessel of faith to God for an individual, but as an overriding determination of law of the land, it sucks.

  • Don

    Mr. Dennett Thank you for raising an eloquent candle in these times of great darkness.

  • Dave

    Religion is just a set of rules based on a belief. Christians believe that everyone sins, and that the only God’s grace rescues us from it’s yoke. ALL major religions believe in “do onto others as you would have done to you.” Don’t judge any religion on a few fanatics. Religion is not driven by fear, that is done by a the few who want to control. Athiests and agnostics think religious people are weak, but actually it’t the exact opposite. I don’t expect others to be honest and moral with me because it is against man’s nature. What I do expect is for God to take care of me NO MATTER what anyone does to me. Those that worry about terrorists and security are those that are driven by fear.

  • Maritza

    Phil,Why this attachment to European Christian roots? Are we not a new people? Why such longing looks back to a time and place that no longer exist? Can we not invent ourselves anew, as a conscientious but not overtly religious people? I’m sure The Good Lord would appreciate our efforts in this more inclusive effort than using his kindly name to oppress and impose. I’ll take a secular government giving me the benefit of the doubt any day over a European Christian theocracy. We had one back in the day, remember – the one run by the Puritans, which proudly presented us with the Salem witch trials, shunnings, and the State of Rhode Island.Besides, I don’t understand how offering the shiny oasis of democracy to the Iraqis will magically get them to be as middle-class, tolerant, and self-interested as a society needs to be for such a form of government to work. In a poverty-stricken environment newly released from dictator-induced secret police, where you have nothing left but your religion to fight for and your life to give, democracy cannot find a foothold. Their country was mostly destroyed; their utilities bombed out of commission, their public services never fully restored, their educated public servants fled. As a result they are have reverted to a tribal survival mode, with ancient allegiances to kin and sect that our people opted OUT of by moving here. Democracy requires a group of equals, or at least people who long to be equal. The ancient Greek democrats only let their property-owning men vote and contribute to their discussions, but they were all equals among themselves…Oh, and A. Thorsten P., LOVE your use of subjunctive. ; )

  • Tonio

    Candide, I think the principle of evangelism does not respect people’s personal boundaries. But whatever your own opinions of other people’s religious beliefs, I think it’s rude to tell other people that their beliefs are mere superstition. You have a right to do so, but what purpose does it serve, other than to provoke people unnecessarily? I have my own opinions about different religious doctrines, but I don’t expect anyone to care about those opinions.

  • Vince Porter

    The Great Paradox: Freedom of religion can only prevail in a secular state.

  • Candace

    I heartily agree that the country needs to remember the First Amendment and that we are (supposed to be) a nation of different, coexisting faiths. (It wasn’t in the original Constitition; thus “Amendment.”) Yes, this country was founded on religious freedom…but for a defined few. The Native Americans were not part of that elite group. An invasion and slaughter AND coercion were used to convert the savages…hmm, very much like Iraq. The colonists wanted a new world and land. Oil is the desired commodity in the Iraq war. Before you get upset, I DO support the troops. I am a Vietnam era vet. I support the war in Afghanistan as the “War on Terror;” that’s where Bin Laden was and probably still is. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The administration has turned a falsely-initiated invasion for WMDs into a paternalistic helping hand to destroy the despot and save the people (after leveling the housing and infrastructure). Along the way, the idea of converting Iraq to democracy became the reason for the continued military presence. Let’s see – forced democracy after bombing the people who already lived in fragile existence of religious and ethnic discord. War to force political and religious views on another group – is this what the tenets of faith in God (Allah, Jehovah, etc.) are about?

  • Todd

    Mr. Dennett, a well thought and insightful comment. There are many out here in the wilds of America that perceive religion in politics as the most dire threat to democracy today. Our founding fathers wanted secular government for a reason — humans have a long and brutal history of committing violence and stupidity in the name of belief. ANY belief. A fundamental problem no one wants to address is that both Islam and Christianity, the two most practiced religions in the world are exclusionary at their cores. Judaism is to an extent exclusionary too in that all these system claim exclusivity to understanding the mind of a god. That is extreme anthropomorphic arrogance. A god by definition would be incomprehensible to a human. Both claim that it is their duty to convert and history has shown both religious persuasions will resort to violence to do so. Arrogance and hypocrisy if you buy that God by any name is love and is seen in the angels of our better natures. Law needs to be rational and secular if humanity is to have any chance at long term survival. A zealot in the White House has brought us disaster and to the brink of global thermonuclear war. Time to keep religion at home and at the church-mosque-temple where it belongs and away from the principles and practice of secular democracy and worry about good governance for all, not just the few. History tells many stories of radical minorities trying to impose their belief and wills upon unwilling peoples. The outcomes run the gamut from anarchy to revolution but the outcome is always paid in blood.

  • Tom Randall

    The Christian Bible states quite plainly: “God is love.” I Jn 4:16. This message is repeated in various forms over and over throughout the New Testament. Anyone speaking for or against Christianity should realize that this is the central tenet of the faith, and in acknowledging this fact, and making it the primary focus of one’s life, most of our worldly problems would be solved. Idle discussions about the actions of purported believers should not distract from this fact.

  • Bill Daniels

    It seems increasingly likely that pluralistic democracy will not survive the continued onslaught of our superstitious and irrational origins. Technologically we’re advanced, but

  • Jaxas

    I am often given to wonder what would happen if our present civilization were completely obliterated in some sort of cosmic cataclysm that left only most well constructed edifices as traces that we actually existed. I wonder if the next civilization that develops over the millenia would follow a similar trajectory. I wonder if religions would be once again organized in the varying cultures of that civilization as they struggle to make sense out of the existence in which they find themselves. Or on the contrary would they develop in a completely different way, devoting themselves to a more rational scientific culture with the goal of tryying to avoid the fate of that civilization that they are finding traces of and evidence of the way that civilization ended.This is all speculation of course. And that is the point. Religious belief seems to discourage healthy speculation or the origins of our existence preferring instead to deliver unprovable certitudes and harsh judgements on those who do not invest in those certitudes.

  • Dave

    Dennet does not raise a candle. Atheism has nothing to offer except bleakness.God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?— Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

  • Scott

    Insightful viewpoint, and this compliment comes from a rightward-leaning Christian. We all need accept the fact that we live in a pluralist world and learn to deal with each other humanely. I fear that the most zealous adherents of any belief system (whether atheists, Christians, Muslims, or Hindus) often forget the common good.

  • UNICORN

    Joshua: We’re not afraid of the unicorns, we’re afraid of the people who beleive in them and think everyone else should. YOU are real, aren’t you?

  • Jaxas

    Here is the problem I have with Christianity: The notion that Jesus Christ is a supernatural entity who came to earth 2000 years ago on a mission from his Father to provide salvation, eternal life and a passport to Paradise for all mankind seems to me a ludicrous proposition. If Jesus were such an entity on such a mission, why at that particular point in human history. It seems to me that such information should have been made clear to us from the beginning. Why was the Son of God not present in the Garden of Eden? Why was Adam and Eve, and the subsequent prophets not informed of such a shattering reality so central to mankind’s future?Why were all of those civilizations before the advent of the Hebrew race not paid a visit by the Son of God to inform them of this good news so that they may have been given a pathway to this salvation? Think of all of the passionate devotions of those ancient cultures and peoples to their repective Divinities who had no concept that there was only one God and he had a Son and that the only possible way to avoid the yawning maw of Hell was to accept him and all of his teachings. If such a thing were true, it seems to me that such a shattering piece of information would have been given to the confused peoples of the earth at the earliest possible date.Look. This is all nonsense folks. I appreciate the value of religion in our lives as a priceless tool for educating us on how to live good, decent lives. But all of this mysticism we invest in Jesus is little differnt than the imagined mystical powers the earliest aborigines invested in the sticking of a bone through one’s nose to keep out evil spirits. It derives from the same ignorance and superstition.

  • John D.

    Yes, the US is a Christian country. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with both and eye on that fact and an eye on preventing the types of religious conflicts that existed in the England from which they had separated. While no law was to be made favoring one religion, it never appeared to be their intent to disallow the public practice of religion. Chaplins in legislatures and bibles in courtrooms attest to that. Laws legislating Christian morality were allowed to stay on the books for years. A few still stand.

  • A Recovering (Ex)Catholic

    As Dr. Dennett points out, “Atheism is one of the live rails of American politics–touch it and you’re toast.” Well, it’s even worse than that. In 1908, William Howard Taft was elected President. According to Wikipedia, “In religious beliefs, Taft was a Unitarian. He once remarked, ‘I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.'” Imagine a national political figure making such a statement today: an otherwise moral, upright, and religious person who dared to disbelieve in Jesus as God! Anathema! How far we’ve come (or, rather, regressed) in only a century.

  • RRH

    Thank you, Mr. Dennett, for articulating so well my own beliefs and opinions. I couldn’t get through most of the posts, but your common sense and purposeful thought is appreciated.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    Matt writes:”Democratic society has a meaningful foundation only upon a transcendent and theistic tradition. If God doesn’t exist,This is based on the absurd premise that morality is a creation of religion. As an atheist, I consider it my moral responsibility to point this out.

  • Joe McCray

    I hold, like many of our founding fathers, a fear and dread of those who would impose their FAITH by the force of government. They were not ignorant of the role religion had played in many wars that decimated as many of the European population as any plague. I emphasized FAITH because much of the problem stems from the fervently religious of any ilk who take that FAITH and assume it to be KNOWLEDGE. Therein lies the biggest problem. What you believe, what you have FAITH in is not my KNOWLEDGE. If your FAITH inspires you to witness to others, fine. But if you cannot by the persuasion of your FAITH and the life you live under that, sway others, you have no right to impose your FAITH on others, simply because you have failed in your efforts at persuasion. This must remain a tenet of our form of democracy. All may harbor the FAITH of their choice, believe in what is best for them, but when you find that FAITH is turning into KNOWLEDGE, you have placed yourself above all others, as though you are the arbitor of the ultimate TRUTH, and that, last time I looked, is a sin. So to the fervently religious who insist on bring their brand of religion to government, go find a dark closet, pray to your God, and listen for that still, small voice of forgiveness for your assuming that you know what is right and best for all.

  • Michael D. Houst

    The only problem I have with people putting their religion before the democratic process is that they invariably beleive that their religion is right, and all others are wrong. Our government is predicated on the proposition that all religions may be wrong, therefore we should not place any one over the other.People choose their religions based on their, or their parent’s, personal values. Different religions promote different value sets; and many are in opposition to each other. This religious divisiveness is such a strong barrier to people living peaceably together that our founding fathers deliberately chose to remove religion as a control of our government. Which is one of the reasons we’ve gotten along with one another as well as we have as a nation-empire. One need only look to the Middle-East of today, or European countries of the recent past to see how allowing religious beleif to rule the government causes violent disintegration of that government and the country.

  • Sensible

    Christians have been here since the inception of this country. Infact all of the founding Fathers believed in God. The struggle of church in state has only come about recently – when all the athiests (like yourself) decided to destroy what was already in place and works. There was a comprimise, there was an understanding, until people like you born in a modern society already established are bent on destroying your own freedom by dividing your country men. You (daniel c dennett) are a missionary for the fragmentation of this country, you expouse your fables as certanties and do it with with as much zeal as any missionary of any denomination or religion. You contradict yourself – “if ain’t broke don’t fix it”, well it seems like everyone like you wants to fix something that isn’t or ever has been broken – like taking the 10 commandments from the supreme court, no prayer, etc. It is people like you that want to convert everyone to your religion – nihilism. Let others beleive. Truly serve your country by doing something – not only by typing something.

  • Jaxas

    Which is more believable: That a supernatural entity we call “God” created all of the cosmos and all life and that he somehow had a son–presumably in some immaculate supernatural way–and that having created Man at the fulness of all of his creations suffered remorse at the vileness of his cration, thus offering up one last hope–to send his son on a mission of mercy to save mankind from the awful fate of being plunged into the depths of Hell–a place he had already sent one of his more rebellious angels and his foillowers.Or, that life arose on earth just as the cosmos itself arose: out of the chaos and flux of all of the unimaginably complex reactions, interactions and unfoldments of elements, chemicals, gases, molecules and other “starstuff” and that part of the evolution of life resulted in a complex creature called man who ultimately reached a level of intellect that allowed him to question his own origins?Which is more believable: That Jesus is a supernatural being whose father sent him to earth on a mission to save mankind from some predetermined fate, or that he was a member of an advanced alien race who somehow impregnated a human female for their own obsure purposes, maybe as part of some plan to control man’s progression on this planet–to speed up their development from time to time.Who Knows? Both propositions are somewhat fantastic. Yet believing Christians easily laugh at the fantastic nature of the alien hypothesis without once thinking about how fantastic their own theory sounds.

  • Alan

    Matt…Your “if God doesn’t exist,then every thing is permissible”statement implies that non-theists have no basis for morality.I disagree.How about this,”for a person of faith everything is permissible (no matter how aweful)as long as it’s done in the name of God”.Take a look at the history books for an infinite number of horrifying examples.People are good or bad regardless of whether they are theists or non-theists.Good people find reasons in the Bible for being good ,and bad people find support in the Bible for doing terrible things. Goodness is totally independent of religion.

  • Martiniano

    Christians should be very careful what precedence they set. Their religion may be dominant in the US today, but lots can happen in a hundred years. If you break down Thomas Jefferson’s “wall” between church and state you open the path for other religions to hold sway as they become more prevalent and, it’s possible, dominant.I am a conservative in that I say we should conserve our Constitution exactly like it is today. Christians need to internalize their morals and live by them without making changes to our Constitution to legislate their particular set of rules.

  • Martiniano

    Matt:Morality existed LONG before Judaism, Christianity or Islam were created. Morality is not the creation of religion. Morality is the set of rules that must be followed for civilization to exist. Read the code of Hammurabai and tell me it isn’t so.

  • Mike in Bowie/Wichita

    Thanks for an important discussion, Dr. Dennett. As a new and fearful atheist (recovering Catholic), I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins. I will add you to my list. As a parent, I am concerned for the world that I/we will leave to our children. But, evolution suggests that, hopefully, current circumstances are just another phase as we mutate toward whatever our species will become. The concern lies in the point you and others make regarding the “danger” of politicians, et. al., professing a lack of faith in the supernatural. I find simply considering atheism to be a liberating experience that provides me a more parsimonious cosmology. I’d like to suggest that theists and deists remember it’s “a”_theism not “anti”_theism.

  • Barry Crook

    There is no danger in this country of a “takeover” by religion. What people seem to object to is that someone’s beliefs may be informed by their religion and that they exercise their 1st amendment right to articulate a position, to advance it, and to vote for it. That is the essence of our democracy and anyone who wants to exclude someone from participating because their opinion is informed by religion is the danger to our democracy. You don’t like their approach to governing, don’t vote for it.

  • Bert

    It’s not god that bothers me, it’s his fan club…

  • Marcus Aurelius

    Dave writes:”Dennet does not raise a candle. Atheism has nothing to offer except bleakness.”The fallacy in this statement is exposed by every non-believer who lives a rich and full life, of which I am one. But, even if it were a true statement, I would rather live in the bleakness of “what is,” than the happiest of fantasies.

  • smafdy

    Hey, Jaxas!Your first and third paragraphs are a lesson in comparative fiction. The second paragraph seems to be the least fantastic of the three ideas. We are the starbaby endowed with the ability to question our own origins. The moment of self-awareness brought with it fear, paranoia, doubt, and befuddlement. It also brought the ability to create. In good form, we promptly used our newfound creativity to fabricate an alternate reality that’s a little less scary.God is what you come up with when you react – willy nilly – to the combened forces of self-awareness, fear, paranoia, doubt, and befuddlement.

  • smafdy

    To Dexter VanDango:Bravo.

  • Consumatopia

    Alexander’s comparison of utilitarians and Christians rings pretty true, but consider: act-utilitarians, as opposed to rule-utilitarians, would probably be unable to obtain office in America if their views became known. Mostly because they’d sound insane.The office holder would be expected to fulfill the obligations of their office and obey the laws of the land even during the rare times in which those laws and obligations fail to maximize the consequential utility. For example, it would not be acceptable to have a healthy, innocent person killed so that their organs could be save a number of lives, even if that increases total happiness–because consistently following the rule that innocent people shall not be harmed itself produces more happiness than any deviation from it is likely to produce.Likewise, we would expect any Christian office holder to be a “rule Christian”, in that they recognize that the peace and cooperation facilitated by freedom of conscience benefits the nation (and it’s soul) more than enough to offset any benefit gained by deviating from these principles. The conflict then is not between atheists and Christians; or between Americans who happen to be Christian and Christians who happen to be American–the conflict is between act-Christians and rule-Christians. Over eager promotion of church-state alliances may signal that you’re in the first group rather than the latter. Given that there doesn’t seem to be anything consequentialist about Christian doctrine whatsoever, it doesn’t really

  • MarkS

    Religious choices are private choices. What I believe for myself, I believe 95%, but I cannot force others to believe that through the power of the state. That is the difference between public and private relhms.

  • Brian

    Excuse me but the different religious people of America are not blowing each other up!! Like the Sunnis or Shiites.Also, PLEASE read the U.S. constitution, there is no reference to a so-called “separation of church and state”. There is to be no state sponsored denomination such as the Church of England.

  • Ingrid Desilvestre

    Mr. Dennett is right on the mark. Adherents of many different faiths — and some who adhered to none — founded this nation. There is probably even greater diversity of belief today. We must all freely practice our beliefs in private, but we must also commit ourselves to allowing no faith to predominate in the public square; otherwise, we undermine not only a fundamental American freedom, but a philosophy that has allowed the United States to avoid the ugly persecution in the name of religion that even today bloodies streets in other parts of the world.

  • Matt in Aberdeen

    Marks writes:”Religious choices are private choices. What I believe for myself, I believe 95%, but I cannot force others to believe that through the power of the state. That is the difference between public and private relhms.”You cannot force others to believe in your religious choices, but if you can convince a majority that those choices are right, then the majority can enact your choices into law and thus force others to *act* in accordance with your religious choices, even though they do not believe in them. That’s how Christian beliefs in “charity for the poor” get turned into compulsory tax payments that support welfare and other social programs. They don’t have to believe, but they do have to pay.Marks continues:”What creates the problem, are those religious figures that use the absolutist, dictums of religion to control others.”It strikes me that those who object to the imposition of religious beliefs by law seem to confine their concern to infringements on sexual freedom or to publicly-funded displays of Christian symbolism. When it comes to the imposition of Christian charity on unbelievers, or to the carnage wrought in society by violent criminals released from prison in accordance with Christian doctrines of “hope” and “redemption” and “rehabilitation,” the “separation of church and state” contingent falls strangely silent.

  • Vincent

    His hyperbole is comical. If this is the best that Tufts can put out, our “philosophers” are in real trouble. Not much time to write. I am actually working, unlike others. There are many foolish old men in existence that claim wisdom. It always amuses me how they justify their radicalism at that advanced age. I almost pity him. I am, by the way, not religious.

  • Anonymous

    Is the writer of this article serious? Clearly he is an atheist because he has no idea what it means to be religious. How can you put anything ahead of God and think that you still respect or love God enough? If you are religious, God is the ultimate truth. Why would I put a political system above ultimate truth?Liberals always forget or re-write history. To them, their values are the apex of humankind. Which of course is the same way every society feels, until their ideas are overshadowed by a new “thought revolution.” Democracy is not the fulfillment of 6 Billion years of evolution. I’m sorry, get over it and get over yourself. You are boring me.

  • J

    Dear God,Please go away. Take your followers, in whatever form they come, with you.Thank you,Reality

  • Garrett

    Freedom of religion never meant freedom from religion. This being said our author is correct in his beliefs that we must support the system that allows us to worship in freedom. What happens when the catholics gain a majority and make birth control illegal based on religious belief.What happens when the southern baptist gain a majority and make dancing, card playing and drinking illegal based on religious belief.What happens when the mormons gain a majority and ban caffeine based on religious belief.What happens when islam gains a majority and makes women cover thier faces based on religious beliefs.What happens when the jews gain a majority and force the destruction of all crosses based on religious beliefs.What happens when the hindus gain a majority and do away with eating beef based on religious beliefs.The author is correct, we can all believe in a God, and worship in our own way, without legistlating our own personal views because one group has more followers than another. Anyone who tolerates legislation of religion is a bad american.

  • Roy

    The answer is we are an immorally Christian nation. Christianity in the US has been hijacked for immoral political agendas including the war in Iraq, attacks on gays and racist plans against immigrants. Jesus’ message of unconditional love has been perverted by our so called Christian political leaders and the religious demagogues who stir up the hate and exclusion. Christianity in the US is now synonymous with immorality. What a shame.

  • Mike Wing

    An old adage is that we are known by the company we keep. George Bush proclaims his conservative religious beliefs at every opportunity. Yet he surrounded himself in the White House by a group who rarely visit any house of worship. Maybe they are more religious than I see evidence of, but they seem to prefer to spend their Sunday mornings on TV talk shows. At least they are preventing the president from imposing a theocracy.

  • Guy

    Dennett, Mark and a few others have pointed out the practical need to put democracy before religion. Neither seems to be saying put the US government before religion. Democracy is the wonderful principle that allows us to choose people to represent us in the governing of our country. Religious or humanist beliefs have a place in assisting the individual citizens in making their choices as to whom they vote for. Your religion or humanist beliefs guide your choices. Your family, your experience and your religious beliefs influence the ideas you value. They are personal. They should stay personal. When you or the group you belong to decides your ideas are better than mine or should be imposed on the rest of society you have crossed the line and would be then advocating a form of dictatorship. If a religious group feels it should get public money to run a school to propagate it’s views it is asking for money from people who may not want their taxes going for that type of indoctrination. If a religious group want public money to conduct a prison program that demands adherence to a particular faith then the group has chosen to put it’s beliefs above the country and the people who pay taxes for the support thereof. Areas where religious groups can do the most good and be consistent with the principles of their prophets is in the lobbying for help for the poor, working to stop killing in wars and taking care of the young and the elderly. When a person or group asserts that their beliefs are better than mine or better than those of my neighbor then they are stepping outside the healthy bounds of religion into the political arena of the dictator. Religious and humanist values are best practiced in our own life as a model for others rather than imposing them on those who may not share your views but who may live a healthy and valuable life of their own. Democracy supports your right to practice your person beliefs. That is the great value of Democracy. It wouldn’t be Democracy if it were twisted to reflect the views of a few. Fighting to keep the principles underlying democracy strong and visible to each generation is what may keep us viable as a society and as and nation.

  • Tonio

    “the carnage wrought in society by violent criminals released from prison in accordance with Christian doctrines of ‘hope’ and ‘redemption’ and ‘rehabilitation,’ the “separation of church and state” contingent falls strangely silent.”Matt, I’ve never heard of those Christian doctrines ever used to justify parole or sentencing guidelines. I believe firmly in the principle of separation of church and state, and I advocate lifetime sentences for capital crimes, including lifetime isolation for first-degree murder.

  • Gustav

    1. Let’s clarify the argument about the founding fathers. First, the Declaration of Independence’s writer (Jefferson) and its primary editor (Franklin) are arguably the most pro-science people in history for their era. Second, the late eighteenth century was not a time when opposition to organized religion could be discussed freely and openly.2. Any belief stated to be based on faith alone, the next words out of your mouth better be “but I may be completely wrong.” Where’s the humility people?

  • Anonymous

    Well I’ve tried to post this in other threads but have received no response and while I’m not sure if it’s particularly germane to this one, I figure I might get an anser here.I’ve seen the claim that the Founding Fathers were atheists, agnostic or deists in several other threads. Being the skeptic that I am, I tried to confirm it on the internets. What I found was a bunch of quotes from about 5 or so of the Founding Fathers that seem to indicate that the are deists. These were generally repeated over and over again on various websites. My question is: what about the other 100 or so Founding Fathers?

  • Dexter VanDango

    THE TRICKS OF THE ALPHA MALEPeople say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.- H. L. Mencken Humility and self-effacement seem to be an important component to most religions. Yet despite the fact that humility is usually considered genuine only if it’s voluntary, most religions resort to brutal coercion to illicit subordination and signs of humility from the populace. As in all things animal, human behavior, too, is structured on some form of hierarchy and pecking order. Some hierarchies are rigid and obvious, some are subtle and invisible. Admittedly such structured systems allow for quicker communication and response, and possibly for a lesser degree of conflict and violence. Hierarchical systems can and do work effectively, but all too often they suffer from a major flaw: the need of the elite or the ultimate alpha male to feel absolutely secure and absolutely dominant. This need for security shows itself when the elite and/or the alpha male demands that the dominated loudly and loyally proclaim a belief in even the most bizarre and illogical claims of the leadership. “Christ walked on water and raised the dead.” “Masturbate and burn in Hell.” “Drink this Kool-aide and end in paradise with me,” as Jim Jones told his followers. “Drink this poison and come aboard the flying saucer,” another self-proclaimed prophet told his flock. “Spread poison gas in the subway and achieve divinity,” one jolly Japanese guru ordered. “Murder these pigs,” Charles Manson told his followers. “Invade Poland and Russia, and by the way, lieblings, you won’t need mittens. It’ll be easy!” Adolph told the herrfolk. The doctrines of National Socialism and Communism are religious beliefs, and as such demand absolute adherence, and they differ only in the smallest ways from traditional world religions. The followers of Kim Jung Il parrot the belief that he was born on a magic mountain in Korea despite his birth in Russia. Mao swam 12 miles in 12 minutes. Other gods, we are told, never really died, but ascended into heaven while still alive, either lifted up by angels or sitting astride their favorite horse. By this simple tool, the creation of patently unbelievable dogmas, the alpha elites are able to quickly see who are the cowered and loyal, and who are the skeptics. Once the skeptics have been spotted they can quickly be weeded out. Heretics are burned. An alpha elite has no interest in forcing its subjects to believe the reasonable or the logical. The reasonable and the logical can be arrived at by anyone and at any time. It is the acceptance of only the most insane ideas that are the true test of the population’s gullibility or fear, and these dogmas become effective weapons for controlling the subjugated. It is the acceptance of the illogical which shows true allegiance. That is why fundamentalist Christians are so opposed to Darwin’s teachings. If the population can be forced to embrace the idea the earth is only 4,400 years old.. and the dinosaur skeletons no older, but put there by a tricky God to test our faith–then they have collected conclusive proof their brain-washing has succeeded. Recognizing the tricks of the alpha elite is simple enough at times. The following samples immediately spring to mind. The first example is one of classic circular thinking: I know what God wants. God wants you to be good. In order for you to be good, because I know what God wants, you have to listen to me. There is no room for the slightest doubt. Our beliefs are absolutely correct. Any divergence or nuance is fallacy and heresy. Unimpeachable witnesses attest to miracles occurring which support our beliefs. If you doubt them you doubt us. Because our God is absolute good and absolute love, to doubt him is bad and proof of a hateful soul. And doubt is punishable by exclusion–or death when we can get away with it.

  • Realist

    Dexter,

  • Tonio

    Dexter VanDango,”The first example is one of classic circular thinking: I know what God wants. God wants you to be good. In order for you to be good, because I know what God wants, you have to listen to me.”I believe strongly in a healthy sense of skepticism when it comes to those claims about God. But to brand all such claims as subterfuges by powerful elites, I think that goes too far. Many religious dogmas sound oppressive to me, but that doesn’t automatically mean that there is a totalitarian motive behind those dogmas.Religious organizations, like all organizations, have a strong interest in their own self-preservation. In my view, that is why religious organizations emphasize doctrine over individual faith. While I see that as a misplaced emphasis, I do not see it as inherently evil or malicious. It’s just that the self-preservation often stands in opposition to the wishes of the individual.

  • Dexter VanDango

    Grumpy, of courseG.O.D.

  • Jay

    For those who state that this is a nation founded on the Christian religion, I would like to direct you to the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796. The translation of Article 11 reads:”As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; … “The text above was approved by President John Adams, and was ratified by the congress.

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  • PASTOR,EMMANUEL

    36/40 old ojo opp,HopebaATTENTION,PASTOR,Greatings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.My name is Evangelist Emmanuel ,president of the HOSPITALS,ORPHANAGE HOMES,AND PRISONS EVANGELICAL OUTREACH[H O P] a neutral and no-denominational ministry.This ministry was commsioned by our Lord Jesus Christ in the year 1998 to propagate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the sick,those in prisons and the orphans/some fellow nigerians who are into hostage take in the oil rich state niger delta and to give them the word of God and turn there mind to christ .Our purpose is to bring them to repentance through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.Our ministry now focuses on two areas[a] How to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ.[b]How to train others to do the same.Again special emphasis is placed on learning to communicate the gospel effectively to non-christians.curriculum[courses]a]How the bible mandates the proclamation of the gospel.At this point i want to appeal to you once again that we need your financial support now and also that of your ministry.Beloved Pastor, i believe that our good God will answer our prayer through you and we appeal most specially for you to be our partner.we need you and we need your support.we are expecting to hear from you soonest.With greetings in Christ.

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    The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.

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    How are you?

  • ahmudfzd

    How are you?

  • ahmudfzd

    How are you?

  • segarlsg

    Beat the air.

  • segarlsg

    Beat the air.

  • segarlsg

    Beat the air.

  • rusrlgnc

    It’s been years and years since we met.

  • caczrmfh

    The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

  • kdqdmxys

    What does copyright protect?

  • kdqdmxys

    What does copyright protect?

  • kdqdmxys

    What does copyright protect?

  • njhmekcs

    How did you come to be here?

  • njhmekcs

    How did you come to be here?

  • njhmekcs

    How did you come to be here?

  • vzeyrdfo

    After a storm comes a calm.

  • vzeyrdfo

    After a storm comes a calm.

  • ulbkgfcz

    What’s new?

  • ulbkgfcz

    What’s new?

  • ulbkgfcz

    What’s new?

  • jakhokgi

    When is my work protected?

  • xwllcwtd

    Is that really you?

  • xwllcwtd

    Is that really you?

  • xwllcwtd

    Is that really you?

  • brdwhlgh

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • brdwhlgh

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • brdwhlgh

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • spmnbxel

    Affection blinds reason.

  • spmnbxel

    Affection blinds reason.

  • spmnbxel

    Affection blinds reason.

  • szcajqzc

    How did you come to be here?

  • szcajqzc

    How did you come to be here?

  • szcajqzc

    How did you come to be here?

  • lbxhtsyb

    When is my work protected?

  • cilpomer

    There is only one success – to spend your life in your own way.

  • cilpomer

    There is only one success – to spend your life in your own way.

  • qygfwacd

    There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist.

  • worszhpx

    How did you come to be here?

  • worszhpx

    How did you come to be here?

  • qugquybs

    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

  • qugquybs

    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

  • gsbzhrni

    After us the deluge.

  • gsbzhrni

    After us the deluge.

  • gsbzhrni

    After us the deluge.

  • hjnbxxfy

    It’s been such a long time since I last saw you.

  • nfmhbyce

    Bowed heads don’t get chopped off.

  • nfmhbyce

    Bowed heads don’t get chopped off.

  • xezjhzsu

    All human beings have human feelings.

  • xezjhzsu

    All human beings have human feelings.

  • bamfxpxi

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • bamfxpxi

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • bamfxpxi

    If you want to be successful you must look successful.

  • iiiwmrtq

    How are you getiing on?

  • pjngwams

    Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.

  • syuyqbum

    How did you come to be here?

  • syuyqbum

    How did you come to be here?

  • syuyqbum

    How did you come to be here?

  • iiiwmrtq

    How are you getiing on?

  • gbmofnxqd hmkpl

    tcipkxoef urekaiw qjezvrwsy kupbgczhm gyblvnh armicte oyufc

  • gbmofnxqd hmkpl

    tcipkxoef urekaiw qjezvrwsy kupbgczhm gyblvnh armicte oyufc

  • gbmofnxqd hmkpl

    tcipkxoef urekaiw qjezvrwsy kupbgczhm gyblvnh armicte oyufc

  • Publius

    Regarding this ridiculous article entitled “Protecting Democracy Comes Before Promoting Faith,” I must say, this is most ironic, for Daniel Dennett is an enemy of democracy. He demonstrates here that he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. He’s nothing more than a fanatical anti-religious bigot, who has been given a soapbox by you fine people. Let us forget the inane babbling of the man that constitutes the bulk of the article. The title is sufficient for analysis.Protecting democracy comes before promoting faith. Think hard on it. Let us define democracy together. George Bernard Shaw said that it is that form of government by which the people deserve their leaders. This is true. As Dennett is so fond of bringing to light radical Islamic movements in obscure parts of the world in order to shock his silly audience into a noble anti-religious fervor (As if history is devoid of radical Islamic activity! As if Islam can honestly be compared to Christianity! It can’t!), I shall invoke the case of Hamas. Here we have evil men elected by an obvious petty people. Fair enough. Good thing they happen to be in a desert somewhere far from here. The fact is, however, a democratic government is supposed to reflect the will of the people. That our government generally does not is beside the point at the moment. Suffice it to say, we understand democracy to mean self-government. Now, let us define religion, shall we? It is easy. It is what someone believes. We need not go any farther. For there is no special distinction between my belief in God, and my belief in Daniel Dennett. They’re both real, and the latter thinks he is the former. For the latter, Mr. Daniel Dennett, wants to save democracy by telling the people to put aside their beliefs for the sake of self-government! Are the people supposed to take this nonsense seriously? They do not. Only the fools among us do.Protecting Democracy Comes Before Promoting Faith… Translation: Promoting Self-Government Comes Before Your Beliefs. Which is to say, Dennetts version of self-government means nothing at all. I say, promote democracy BY promoting YOUR faith! For that is your voice, and it should resound through all the legislative chambers, in the courts, and the White House. THAT is self-government. And if the will of the people should ever fail the cause of righteousness, by God, we’ll deserve our leaders. Tufts certainly deserves their professors.

  • vhywnpwaug

    Wow, cool man, big thanks!