Thursday, July 07, 2005

"The Worm has turned, and he's packing an uzi!"

The trouble is that he forgot the banana clips. Oh well. He's expresses his gratitude that I noticed his writing and gave him banner material. What can I say but, "you're welcome"? Bloggers get enough manure from MSM. Even when we disagree, we ought to throw each other some bones. Now, to the business at hand. Kirk of Grasping Space responds to my post on his perspective regarding government and commandment display. In particular, he evidently has these concerns:
"Wonder if he has the same concern when that Judicial Branch of Government defines the reality of freedom for the nation? I'll bet a pint of guiness [sic] I'll here [sic] crickets if I ask him."

If you’re hearing the sound of crickets, it’s because I didn’t understand the question. He seems to be asking a very vague question in the hope of receiving a very specific response that he can pounce on in order to score some cheap rhetorical points.
He believed I was to vague. Fair enough. It's not wise to assume that anything SCOTUS does is common knowledge, even in the blogosphere. Here is what I had in mind(scroll down to Planned Parenthood v. Casey):
In Casey, the Court relied on the combined force of (a) its "explication of individual liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause and (b) stare decisis to reaffirm what it described as (c) the "central holding" of Roe. 505 U.S. at 853. Each of these elements warrants scrutiny.

The core of the Court�s explanation of the liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clause is its declaration, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one�s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." 505 U.S. at 851. This lofty New Age rhetoric should not conceal the shell game that the Court is playing. What the Court�s declaration really means is that the Court is claiming the unconstrained power to define for all Americans which particular interests it thinks should be beyond the bounds of citizens to address through legislation.
According to the court, each person's conception of meaning is one's own; their right to do this becomes the ultimate meaning of freedom for the nation. Since one's right to liberty fall under the Constitution's protection, neither federal nor local legislatures can pass laws that curb it. However, the Court has long ruled that all levels of government may regulate the practice of one's right's within their sphere of authority. However, such regulation must pass constitutional muster. Who decides this? Why, the judiciary does, of course.

This effectively means that SCOTUS now determines not only the ultimate meaning of liberty but it's practice as well. The legislature and executive branches are effectively sidelined. Consider how quickly abortion industry groups brought suits against the law that forbade partial birth abortion. A few federal judges ordered injunctions against the laws enforcement; others found the law unconstitutional. Some found the law constitution. The bottom line is that the perogative of the legislature, which enjoyed popular support from the people, has been confounded by the judiciary and removed from the people's consideration in the name of the constitution! Now that he knows what I've asked, will I hear crickets? I sure could use that six-pack of guiness. As long as their room temperature!

On to Kirk's next misunderstanding:
"Consider all of the fantastic epics of history from every civilization of the ancient world. Where is [sic] lying, cheating, stealing and murder condemned in and of themselves? [emphasis his] In nearly ever [sic] epic, from Gilgamesh to The Odyssey, the hero engages in some type of behavior prohibited by the commandments. Instead of condemnation, his acts contribute to his heroic status."

The ancients understood as well as any modern Hollywood scriptwriter that a compelling story needs compelling characters, and that compelling characters need flaws.
Kirk completely evades my point. His follow-up excerpts from the bible make that clear. The ancients did not view these stories the way Hollywood scriptwriter's do today. These stories embodied their religious aspirations. This was the way they sought the truth. Consequently, this is the way they defined the right and wrong way to live. Where in Gilgamesh is it evident that his immoral behavior is exactly that, immoral? Whereas the bible, whose books from the Jewish tradition represent the first radical leap of consciousness in human history, makes it quite evident how moral the characters are, or are not. Including the protagonists. What's the difference? One people came from a tradition that perceived, and attempted to practice, the Rule of Law. From where did they derive this societal-altering Rule? The Ten Commandments; although more a more complete answer must be the Torah.

Allow Kirk to demonstrate:
And it’s not necessary to look outside the Bible to find heroic characters with flaws. Moses, God’s mouthpiece himself, is the first to come to mind. Didn’t he (among other sins) kill an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew slave? Wasn’t the prophet Jonah upset with God for not unleashing His wrath upon the people of Nineveh after they repented, and didn’t he camp outside the city waiting for God to change His mind? What about Absalom, son of David, who became a renegade after killing his brother Amnon, who raped their sister Tamar? Speaking of King David, didn’t he arrange the death of Uriah the Hittite in order to take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba? What about Abraham, who deceived Abimelech, King of Gerar, by telling the king that Sarah was his sister, not his wife? Didn’t Jacob acquire his brother Esau’s birthright in exchange for a mess of pottage?
He makes my case for me. Even before the full revelation of the Law, the Bible alludes to the complicity of even the patriarch's in their moral shortcomings. Of course, it also reveals the uprightness of their character in spite of these flaws, as well. Where is such complexity of understanding present in other ancient civilizations that lacked an awareness of the Decalogue?

But let's not let one good misrepresentation of my perspective get in the way of a good banter of rhetorical wit:
The Odyssey, of course, is a great yarn about a guy who defies the gods for twenty years in order to be reunited with his wife and child. How this epic could be improved by changing it into a morality play is beyond me.
Talk about missing the point. No one, least of all me, talks about what the Ancient people should have done in regards to their art or their living of moral lives. My point is that the people of the ancient world, unassisted by that revelation that is the Decalogue, failed to fully perceive and practice the morality that we, the children of the Ten Commandments in one way or another, take for granted today. And before anyone starts talking about judging people of the past by today's standards, consider the Jewish experience again. There is a people that do begin to perceive the moral world that we would recognize. They can't consistently live that call to virtuous living, but they understand it.
“And so, Odysseus decided to submit to the will of the gods, and never saw Penelope again. The End.” Nope, let’s try again. “And Odysseus’ men, ignoring their instincts to survive, did not kill any of the flock, and starved to death. The End.” No wait, this is even better. “And so, feeling guilty for stealing from the Cyclops’ flock, Odysseus’ men allowed the Cyclops to wreak his revenge upon them. The End.” That kind of story wouldn’t have survived a generation, much less a few millennia.
Yeah, Kirk demonstrates an amazing capacity to slice and dice a strawman. Sir Winston Churchill would shiver in his boots at the thought of facing such a skilled rhetoritican. Am I too harsh? Is this too much of an Ad Hominem for him? Geesh, a Fool can't have a little fun with satire anymore! Very well, to be serious, once again: Kirk's demonstration of the absurdity of recasting a classic of world literature fails to address my point. Moving right along:
"Kirk clearly denies the reality of sin and it's [sic] consequence on our ability to reason, concupescience [sic], a disordered desire to sin and to avoid virtue."

That’s unnecessarily insulting. I live in a town of roughly a quarter million people, if you add in all the outlying communities. When I pick up the local paper and see a murder reported on the front page, I know that, leaving aside whether or not divine intervention was necessary, a quarter million people in fact have figured out that murder is evil, because a few of those people chose to publish the news, while the rest of them read the news and talked about how terrible that murder was. The evil (murder and otherwise) we read about in the paper is perpetrated by a very small number of people in proportion to the general population. The evil is in the paper because it is newsworthy. The evil is newsworthy because evil behavior is the exception, not the rule.
I haven't insulted him. I've pointed out what he evidently believes. He demonstrates a lack of understanding about the development of our apprehension of morality. He appears to believe that people always understood the basic moral prohibitions that we take for granted today. That simply isn't the case.

His presentation of his community's response to a murder makes this clear. He and his neighbors understand the reprehensibility of murder because they came of age in a culture that had been nourished in the Rule of Law and the vices condemned by the Ten Commandments. Say this murder occurred in a society that still practiced honor killings. Say the people of a town there read about this murder. Given the right circumstances, the people might actually praise the homicide! Kirk make's my point without even realizing it.

But enough small talk. Time to serve the steak. Kirk comes to the heart of his discontent with my post here:
"He's certainly right that no government made by man--including the constitutional republic of the United States--deserves more respect and obedience than God. However, his conclusion that the public display of the commandments implicitly elevates government to God is absurd. Or perhaps I misread him here. Indeed!"

Indeed, indeed! I did not conclude that the display of the commandments deifies government. I concluded that government endorsement of the display of the commandments deifies government. Here is the sentence Tassone is referring to: “When a modern government endorses the public display of the Ten Commandments, it is implicitly demanding a degree of respect that no government ever can deserve.”(emphasis his, bold to clarify)
Well, I'm glad he cleared that up. Or did he?
It’s perfectly possible for the government to display the Ten Commandments (or another religious document or icon) without such a display appearing to be an endorsement of the content thereof.
Kirk begins to tip his hand here. His concern with Government display of the Ten Commandments rest on government endorsing the content of them, as in the "Religious" content. In other words, he accepts the current and Reasonable intepretation of the Establishment Clause that says Government can't endorse religion, as opposed to the actual wording and intent of the Founders. They wanted to prevent government showing preference to a religious group or establishing a national Church. Could this be where he stands? Let's find out:
The test typically applied by the courts is outlined in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). The rule in Lemon is that when the state sponsors the display of a religious symbol, the state action must (1) have a secular purpose, (2) not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) not foster excessive entanglement with religion. The Supreme Court has also stated, in Lynch v. Donnelly, that the display of a religious symbol in “a typical museum setting … negates any message of endorsement of that content.” 465 U.S. 668, 692 (1984).
He does indeed appear to accept the religious/secular line. He also fails to address my argument here:
"When government choses to display the commandments, they honor the tradition of the people from whom government emerged and to whom it remains accountable. The founding generations of this country lived in a culture nourished on enlightenment and Judeo-Christian philosophy. First and foremost, our founding fathers recognized that the commandments stood as that icon of the Rule of Law. No one may place oneself unjustly above anyone else. Our national heritage, the Declaration of Independence, expresses the summit of this understanding: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Thomas Jefferson affirms the natural law made evident by the Ten Commandments. Honoring the culture of our founding generation--and the one many Americans still adhere to today--is not, in any way, implicitly demanding the respect that is due only to God. It is preserving the unspoken will of the people, who have passed down the values that have secured our constitution, our institutions of government and society, and even the very creed that has become our national identity."
Instead, he offers this defense for his question as to why Judges haven't run with his bright idea:
And my purpose in pointing out that no court opinion, to my knowledge, has yet stated that the endorsement of the display of a religious symbol deifies government was to draw attention to the fact that, by making such a statement, the court would (finally) give a sufficient explanation as to why the government should not endorse such displays – particularly when the display in question is the Ten Commandments.
As far as I'm concerned, he hasn't established at all why the government that endorses the cornerstone of humanity's consciousness of the Rule of Law would then qualify as the government deifying itself. On the contrary, a government that endorsed the Ten Commandments would recognize it's submission to the Rule of Law. Respect for the Rule of Law helps keep tyranny and totalitarianism at bay. I'm confused as to why a constitutional Republic that celebrates freedom would consider this a bad thing.

Judging from this second post, Kirk appears to believe the following:
1. People understand right and wrong without any reference to religion.
2. Religion and government are separated by a wall of separation, and government must not endorse or entangle itself in religion.
3. If the government does endorse the religious content of a ten commandment display, it aggrogates for itself a respect that is only due to God.

I believe I've already demonstrated why Kirk's first premise fails. As to his second belief, there are at least two problems with it. First, Religion itself is a seeking out of Truth. This search for truth must also lead to a life of virtue, since one can't live in the Truth if one lives an inheritently disintegrated life. For a life without integrity is a life without truth. Such a journey toward truth and virtue should not be evaded by Government. Rather, it should be honored to the extent that it recognizes the role that it plays in people's lives. The government has no business making specific determinations on the nature of particular religious communities' fundamental beliefs. Nor should it show a preference of one over the other. But to say that government should have no involvement with religion dooms society to eventually construct it's own reasons for existence. Such reasons are not the truth. And lives not lived in truth are lives that disintegrate. Thus, in the end, the government that endorses the content of the ten commandments endorses the idea that we are all called to seek out the Truth and to live lives of virtue. This recognition by government does not deify government. It simply places government in the real world, where each of us strive to find the full meaning of our lives.

Kirk closes with a taste of flair:
Let me wrap up this long post. Many a critic has attempted to damn someone with faint praise. The title of Tassone’s post, “grasping at space grasps at straws,” is the first example I have yet seen of praising someone with faint damnation. Last time I checked, straws are more substantial than space. Maybe I should check again.
Touche! Well made, that cut, it runs my cheek deep red! Perhaps my criticism failed to criticize enough. Ideas have consequences. Sometimes those consequences remain unforseen until it is too late. Believing that society can collectively turn it's back on the Traditions by which they derived their values, and then expect to remain as they are to pass them on, does not make it so. When we turn away from what has made us, we become unmade. The Ten Commandments are a part of our Tradition; we can't afford to not endorse them.