Sunday, January 01, 2006

Toward a Definition of Theocracy: Part Deux

[Sorry Mike - just had to steal that "deux" thing].

Jefferson's idea was that religious influence which included belief in the miracles of Jesus was too much influence in the affairs of state. Which is not to say Jefferson considered such influence "theocratic," but he certainly considered it inappropriate in the American republic he envisioned. -- RMJ here
This seems like a good lead-in to talking about what separation meant to the founding fathers who created it.

Thomas Jefferson had three accomplishments placed on his tomb:
  1. founding of the University of Virginia;
  2. authoring the Declaration of Independence; and
  3. authoring the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom
It is the last I am going to chat about.

This was passed in the Virginia Legislature in 1786 by the efforts of James Madison; and is generally credited to be the foundation of the Separation Doctrine championed by Madison ast the Constitutional Convention soon to come. Jefferson, BTW, was a member of neither body.

Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom
  1. Almighty God has created the mind free;
  2. that all attempts to influence it by earthly punishments or burdens:
    • tend only to cause habits of hypocrisy and malice,
    • are a departure from the plan of the God, who chose not to spread His plan by coercions on mind or body, as it was in his Almighty power to do;
  3. that legislators and rulers (civil as well as clerical), in sinful presumption (being themselves but fallible and uninspired men):
    • have assumed power over the faith of others,
    • set up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others,
    • have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time;
  4. that to compel a man to furnish money for the spread of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical;
  5. that even forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own creed:,
    • is depriving him of the right of giving his aid to a particular teacher,
      • whose morals he would make his pattern, and
      • whose instruction he feels most influential to virtue, and
    • withdraws from his favored teacher the aid that would be an added stimulus to the teacher's instruction of mankind;
  6. that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry;
  7. that therefore making any citizen unable to assume public office unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him of those privileges and advantages to which he has a natural right;
  8. that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honors those who will externally profess and conform to it;
  9. that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation [to falsely profess and conform], yet neither are those innocent who tempt them to do this;
  10. that to allow the judge to impinge his powers into the field of opinion, and to control the profession or spread of principles on belief in their incorrectness, is a dangerous myth, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because:
    • the judge will make his opinions the rule, and
    • approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they agree or disagree with his own;
  11. that it is time enough for the purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when those principles lead to overt acts against peace and good order; and finally,
  12. that
    • Truth is great and will prevail if left alone
    • Truth is the proper and ample opponent to error, and
    • Truth has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless humans remove truth's natural weapons: free argument and debate, (since errors cease to be dangerous when they are freely contradicted):
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

So, while it may be true that Jefferson himself believed us superstitious miracle-believers were fools - his political view was that we should be able to be freely fools in the political arena and that "Truth is great and will prevail if left alone" "unless humans remove truth's natural weapons: free argument and debate".

So, Jefferson's position, and I believe the Constitutions, is that anyone, in or out of office, should be able to express their "principles", religious or not. at any time - and no law should restrain that unless "those principles lead to overt acts against peace and good order".

So, President Bush is perfectly free to say that God told him to invade Iraq as long as arguing with that in the public arena is not stifled. To argue that he has no right to express his religious views because he is in public office, is to violate Jefferson's view of religious freedom.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly