Balkinization  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rendering unto God and Caesar: Reflections on the Republican Platform

Sandy Levinson

From the Republican Party Platform:

We are the party of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration sets forth the fundamental precepts of American government: That God bestows certain inalienable rights on every individual, thus producing human equality; that government exists first and foremost to protect those inalienable rights; that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights; and that if God-given, natural, inalienable rights come in conflict with government, court, or human-granted rights, God-given, natural, inalienable rights always prevail; that there is a moral law recognized as “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”; and that American government is to operate with the consent of the governed. We are also the party of the Constitution, the greatest political document ever written. It is the solemn compact built upon principles of the Declaration that enshrines our God-given individual rights and ensures that all Americans stand equal before the law, defines the purposes and limits of government, and is the blueprint for ordered liberty that makes the United States the world’s freest and most prosperous nation   


I assume that Michael Pence, or for that matter Ted Cruz, has no trouble embracing this part of the Republican Party platform, which clearly subordinates any laws passed by legislatures or any other governmental institution to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."  We could, of course, get into long debates about the difference between the "laws of nature," which could be Aristotelian, and non-dependent on any belief in God, in contrast to subordination to "Nature's God," which sound more in Revelation and divine sovereignty than in Reason.  In any event, we have a clear hierarchy of norms, with Divine commands at the top and everything else beneath.


We might compare the Republican platform, in this respect, to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran:


Article 2The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in:

    1.the One God (as stated in the phrase "There is no god except Allah"), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands;
    2.Divine revelation and its fundamental role in setting forth the laws;...


From a purely analytic perspective, it is hard to tell the difference between the Republicans and the Iranians.  The same can be said,incidentally, of those ultra-Orthodox Jews who would look to the Torah and other Jewish materials to structure the law of Israel.

What can Donald Trump possibly make of this?  Whatever else one might think of the Platform, it seems to accept the notion of "individual rights" as limits against an overreaching government.  (That may well be a difference worth noting between the Republican Platform and the Iranian Constitution.)  But Trump seems to have no recognition of individual rights that are Dworkinian trumps (so to speak) against the state.  The admirer of strong-men dictators who almost literally can't wait to order waterboarding (or worse, such as retaliation against the families of those deemed by Trump and Chris Christie to be "terrorists") surely can't take seriously the proposition that even the least of us, made, after all, in the image of God, have rights against the state (or, for that matter, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eyes of a needle than for a rip man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.  Can anyone imagine Donald Trump spending his time and sharing the last meal with a condemned criminal about to be executed the next morning, as Tim Kaine, a serious Catholic, did?). To valorize the state is to commit the sin of idolatry, by placing the all-powerful state in the place of a formerly all-powerful God (who may or may not be just, but that's the subject of yet another theological argument).  Of course, Trump may want to cite Romans 13:1 on magistrates being chosen by God and, therefore to suggest, that his political success, including potential election, would be quite literally providential.  

I do not mean to be simply snarky about the Republican tip of the hat to theocracy.  There is obviously something to be said for the idea of a limited state, and it is certainly the case that many have looked to religious sources for a sense of what those limits are.  

The fact is that three of the four candidates, Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Mike Pence, are genuinely religious by any conventional measures.  She is a serious Methodist, and has been so since she was young.  Her oft-rerated  "slogan," "Do all the good you can...." is usually attributed to John Wesley and is the foundation of Methodist intervention in the world, including anti-slavery.  [Again, if I can try to anticipate some of the comments, I hope that none of you are so completely obtuse as to deny the reality of Clinton's religious beliefs and commitments.  Anyone doing so simply reveals the utter ignorance of her actual biography.]  Kaine, by all accounts, is a serious "social justice Catholic" who served as a missionary in Central America, and Pence is a former Catholic who apparently became aborn-again Evangelical because he wanted a closer relationship with God.  And, of course, he has emphasized that his primary identity is as a Christian.  (Let him try to explain how a serious Christian can hook up with Donald Trump, but that's another matter.)  

Should we be heartened or disheartened by the religiosity of three of the four candidates?  I define myself as a "secular Jew," with an emphasis on "secular," and I would be delighted if religion played less of a role in the lives of most Americans.    Christopher Hitchens certainly wouldn't be heartened.  But I can't imagine his being overly cheered by the fact that Trump felt no political duty to make any bow to religion in his speech.  I don't recall that he even bothered to end with the now ritual request for God's blessing on the U.S.  One did hear the Rolling Stones  and the importance of settling for getting what you need rather than wishing for what you want.   More suitable, I think, would have been "Sympathy for the Devil."

Comments:

When the pastor gave a rather Republican benediction at the Republican Convention, recalled Paul's epistle to the Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Just finished a mini-bio of St. Paul written by Karen Armstrong & she argues a primary concern of Paul was to not have the community of believers divide. OTOH, there isn't a reference to party in that statement of faith. To be fair.

The Declaration of Independence speaks of "nature's God" though some of the terms used are perhaps not as deistic. But, the U.S. Constitution does not. And, U.S. v. Seeger et. al. suggests something on the level of "God" counts too to fit in. President Obama has tried to be inclusive and an open-ended view of "religion" was cited in Justice Kagan's dissent in Town of Greece v. Galloway:

These are statements of profound belief and deep meaning, subscribed to by many, denied by some. They “speak of the depths of [one’s] life, of the source of [one’s] being, of [one’s] ultimate concern, of what [one] take[s] seriously without any reservation.” P. Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations 57 (1948). If they (and the central tenets of other religions) ever become mere ceremony, this country will be a fundamentally different—and, I think, poorer—place to live.

I think the dissent there overall was a better sense of what "religious liberty" entails, even if it doesn't quite match what some think that term means.

 

Four of four; Trump is a Presbyterian.There's no basis for declaring his faith any less sincere than Hillary's, and it's a bit cheesy to just leave denying it to implication.
 

The OP argues: "The fact is that three of the four candidates, Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Mike Pence, are genuinely religious by any conventional measures."

There is "some basis" to argue Trump's "declaring his faith" is "less sincere than Hillary's," even if -- which isn't the same thing -- people will disagree on the merits.

I personally use "genuinely religious" broadly and won't try to say Trump isn't. But, words mean things, and "no basis" in that context is "a bit cheesy."
 


Let me be a bit snarky on this one: If Brett (and Chris Christie) are willing to convict Hillary Clinton on the basis of dubious readings of the evidence, I am more than happy to state that there is no evidence whatsoever that Donald Trump has the slightest knowledge of or interest in the tenets of Presbyterianism or, for that matter, any other branch of Christianity. I am quite confident that I, as a secular Jew, could score higher than Trump in any exam on Christianity, including the specifics of Presbyterianism.

By their deeds shall you know them. Donald Trump has never behaved, for a single instant, as if he takes religion seriously. Until then, I think it entirely fair to differentiate him from Clinton, Kaine, and Pence on this dimension. As I indicated, I would find it refreshing it an avowed atheist were able to run for elective office. If Trump were willing to say that he is an illiterate Nietzschean, who believes that he is the Ubermehsch, with an infinite will-to-power and domination over those he deems "losers," I would at least give him credit for intellectual honestly. But there is no semblance of intellectual honesty--or intellectual seriousness--in the Republican nominee.
 

I'm sure you're quite confident of that. I'm sure you're also familiar with the relevant Mark Twain quote, so I'll leave it at that.
 

Brett is such a tease by referencing a Mark Twain quote presumably on religion. Some of us who have read Twain, including his posthumously published "Letters from the Earth," have been exposed to many of Twain's quotes on the subject. Here's a link:

http://formerfundy.blogspot.com/2010/02/quotes-on-religion-from-mark-twain.html

to "Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity" which lists many such quotes by Twain. Perhaps he might be a tad more specific about which quote of Twain's Brett is sure Sandy is aware of. Gimme that old time non-religion Preacher Brett.
 

For the Twain impaired.
 

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

-- Mark Twain

Ah. The irony.
 

"He who Trumpeth himself from on high, claiming 'I. alone' doth taketh thy Lord's name in vain, engages in Idolatry, with false profits [siceth] by being Chapter XI-born-again, condemned eternally to presbyterian intoxication." MT
 

According to accounts I've read, Trump is a long time Presbyterian, regularly attends mass, and collects Bibles as a hobby. Does he live up to religious ideals? In some respects, no, but in a race where Hillary is one of the candidates, is that really a question you want raised?

Simple fact: Four out of four, not three. You don't have to think Trump is a saint to avoid pretending he doesn't have a religion.
 

"The fact is that three of the four candidates, Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, and Mike Pence, are genuinely religious by any conventional measures."

Not "has a religion" ... on the merits, perhaps he is. But, there is "a basis" to be suspicious, including some of his remarks about the Bible etc. that doesn't really sound very serious and knowledgeable.

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

A lesson for both critics of the Constitution.
 

"regularly attends mass"

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/252246-church-that-trump-claims-to-attend-says-hes-not-an-active

Again, such things might mislead, but provides a "basis" for suspicion.
 

According to leaked emails, the DNC seriously considered charging that Bernie was an atheist, as part of their program to rig the election in favor of Hillary. The thought again.

Think again, please. This is not a place you want to go.
 

Brett said this: "There's no basis for declaring his faith any less sincere than Hillary's, and it's a bit cheesy to just leave denying it to implication."

I replied that -- though I personally would not go "there" as Sandy Levinson did -- there was a "basis" and it would be "cheesy" to deny this. I gave a couple reasons for said "basis," again not saying it is conclusive. I took Mark Twain's "for sure" wisdom to heart.

The leaked email on what was "considered" doesn't change any of this. I'm sure SL could find something that Pence did (down to joining the ticket) that he personally thinks arguably taints his religious faith in some fashion. But, SL didn't challenge his faith. Pence to SL is different from Trump. Pence is a Republican, so it isn't just a partisan thign either.
 

There's no doubt that The Donald preys.
 

GOP Platform: We are the party of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration sets forth the fundamental precepts of American government: That God bestows certain inalienable rights on every individual, thus producing human equality; that government exists first and foremost to protect those inalienable rights; that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights; and that if God-given, natural, inalienable rights come in conflict with government, court, or human-granted rights, God-given, natural, inalienable rights always prevail; that there is a moral law recognized as “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”; and that American government is to operate with the consent of the governed.

Sandy: I assume that Michael Pence, or for that matter Ted Cruz, has no trouble embracing this part of the Republican Party platform, which clearly subordinates any laws passed by legislatures or any other governmental institution to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."


Jefferson and not the GOP wrote the phrase "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" into the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


"The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" to which Jefferson refers are our "unalienable Rights [to] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. And, yes, the laws of government are indeed subordinate to these "unalienable" liberties.

Your quoted passage of the GOP platform is a reasonable summary of the Declaration.

Your comparison of the Declaration of Independence with the Iranian constitution is mistaken. Our God-given liberty from government direction is the anti-thesis of Iran's imposition of religious law directing the lives of their people.

We could, of course, get into long debates about the difference between the "laws of nature," which could be Aristotelian, and non-dependent on any belief in God, in contrast to subordination to "Nature's God," which sound more in Revelation and divine sovereignty than in Reason.

Interestingly, Jefferson (like myself) arrived at his belief in God and his natural laws by reasoning that an ordered universe can only be explained by "a fabricator of all things."

http://history.hanover.edu/hhr/hhr93_1.html

Yes, Jefferson believed in intelligent design.
 

"Trump is a long time Presbyterian, regularly attends mass"

Presbyterian...mass???

"Jefferson (like myself) arrived at his belief in God and his natural laws by reasoning that an ordered universe can only be explained by "a fabricator of all things."

Jefferson's Bible, if done by a contemporary, would surely get denounced by the Religious Right. I also wonder if one of Jefferson's natural laws he deduced by reason included OKing sleeping with your teenage slaves.

When it comes to 'natural law' I prefer Justice Holmes who said "It is not enough for the knight of romance that you agree that his lady is a very nice girl—if you do not admit that she is the best that God ever made or will make, you must fight. There is in all men a demand for the superlative, so much so that the poor devil who has no other way of reaching it attains it by getting drunk. It seems to me that this demand is at the bottom of the philosopher’s effort to prove that truth is absolute and of the jurist’s search for criteria of universal validity which he collects under the head of natural law."

'



 

Yes, Jefferson believed in intelligent design.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 10:07 PM


He was also boinking one of his slaves. How is that working out for you?
 

Interestingly, Jefferson (like myself) arrived at his belief in God and his natural laws by reasoning that an ordered universe can only be explained by "a fabricator of all things."

It's really not that interesting. Jefferson lived over 200 years ago, and you're an idiot who wished that he lived 200 years ago.
 

"Religion" means many things, so I'm not really sure if less of it in this country would be a good thing. Probably a different kind of it in various cases.

Also, Holmes aside, many believers of God have plenty of doubt and realize the limits of "universal validity." The Declaration itself said "we hold" these truths self-evident; that alone suggests a limit. But, it seems sensible to me on some level to hold slavery is wrong, using basic legal theory of proper human relations growing out of our natures, even if positive law says it is right. And, there are certain basic things generally seen as wrong in human societies. Granting limits, 'natural law' seems to have some place.

At least, that seems to be "we" see things in this country.
 

That was the opinion of Jefferson, who himself said, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever"; He was speaking of slavery.

If you don't have personal experience with the notion of something you know to be wrong, but can't manage to stop doing, you're either a saint, or have a very convenient conscience. For Jefferson and some of the other Founders, slavery was that sort of wrong.

Trust me, we're doing things today that future generations will view with equivalent horror.
 

SPAM I AM!'s:

"Jefferson (like myself) ... "

may imagine himself on Mt. Rushmore alongside Jefferson and other historic legends, but I imagine a hysterical SPAM I AM! atop a molehill called "Piques Peak."

By the Bybee [expletives deleted], my bartender tells me more presbyterians are served at a bar than at a "mass."
 

The Donald's acceptance speech at the "TRUMP FAMILI VALUES CONvention" was Old Testament in contrast to New Testament, especially his "I alone" claims with Mt. TRUMP in the background. This was the non-musical version of the Pied Piper.
 

"Trust me, we're doing things today that future generations will view with equivalent horror."

That's goofy. We'll surely look at some things we accept with horror, but we'll still sensibly recognize that you can't do much worse than chattel slavery.
 

"my bartender tells me more presbyterians are served at a bar than at a "mass."

Well, yeah. Presbytarians don't have mass, so if Trump is arguing he's religious because he 'is Presbytarian and goes to mass every Sunday' that kind of proves the opposite point.
 

Brett: Trust me, we're doing things today that future generations will view with equivalent horror.

Like today's generation looks at the failed New Deal?

Remember who is writing most of the propaganda, er... history books and student textbooks.
 

" but we'll still sensibly recognize that you can't do much worse than chattel slavery."

Sure, you can. For instance, if cryonics proves to actually work, we've been burning and composting billions of people whose lives could have been saved if they'd just been dunked in liquid Nitrogen and warehoused for a few decades. Killing basically everybody would be worse than chattel slavery. Death and everybody, that's a pretty hard combination to beat.
 

It might be possible to imagine something worse than chattel slavery but cryonics doesn't work yet and even if it did, it is questionable if it is even advisable. Plus, we don't know how it would work. So, we wouldn't know how to "save" the people for future reanimation.

There were existing alternatives to slavery. It was advisable to use them. etc. Not sold.

I do think the future will find us to have done various inhumane things. Our criminal justice system, including warehousing people (often for relatively trivial reasons) in little cages, is a leading thing. I also think it's possible the future will be vegan. I think that's the big picture. Trying to rank things is somewhat as misguided as ranking religious belief to me.
 

The difference between the cryonics stuff is that virtually no one thinks it's feasible to be freezing everyone that dies today, but it was quite common in Jefferson's day to think slavery was a moral monstrosity (in fact, Jefferson had neighbors, friends, etc., that were either abolitionists or who once had slaves and then manumitted them, and urged him to do the same).

I think joe's example of eating animals is more likely.
 

" but cryonics doesn't work yet"

If it works, it works already. It doesn't work by reviving people, it works by storing them so that they can eventually be revived. In any event, it's just a potential example. Abortion is another. All it would take is a modest change of opinion on abortion, and the latter 20th century would look like a holocaust; It already does to about as large a part of the population as were abolitionists.

It's a failure of imagination, or a very self-satisfied conscience, that thinks we won't be criticized in the future in the way we criticize the past.
 

Who knew, Brett is channeling Woody Allen - or wearing tinfoil. Would it be a failure of imagination if Brett tried to go the way of Ted Williams? And if in the future it actually worked, would Brett still have small hands? By that time the demographics will have changed. How might a revived Brett react?
 

Brett, the issue is that we don't know how it works yet, if it would even work, so we don't even know how to keep the people prepped. Slavery was known to be wrong and the alternatives were already available. The lack of knowledge there wasn't the same.

The abortion example is a better one since we know what happens there & it is a matter of defining the morality of doing it. Cryogenics is different. It's possible that ignorance alone will be judged as a moral flaw, perhaps, but still makes slavery different than cryogenics.

 

The original piece is mistaken, I believe, in that "Nature's God" grounds belief in revelation. The point the author makes on the laws of nature and Aristotle is correct. As the term was used, "nature" defines as discoverable by reason unaided by special revelation. As it were "Nature's God" is God insofar as we can discover and understand Him through our reason unaided by revelation. "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is a double invocation of reason.

I think they added God because, as America's Founders understood the natural law, they needed a God of some sort to make it binding in an "ought" sense.
 

The Declaration of Independence itself doesn't merely say "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." It also references "the Supreme Judge of the world" and "the protection of divine Providence." This implies a somewhat more active God. As I recall, one or more of these references were added in editing.

Some were deists but there was a broad belief in an afterlife, including judgment of good and evil. Jefferson in some of his writings spoke of this sort of thing -- e.g., http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/55/Letter_from_Thomas_Jefferson_to_John_Adams_1.html

I think they added God since it was a simple uncontroversial fact that God exists and even rational thinkers still used God in a deistic sort of way. It wasn't just a way to bind as in natural "law," but it seemed rational to them in a scientific sense that God existed. This does connect to the "special revelation" point though many also believed in revelation. So, different people could take the language in different ways as I think people did then, as they do now.
 

Joe, I more or less agree. Divine Providence + future state of rewards and punishment. A God who created the world and established a natural law where men by their rational faculties alone could understand it, that was the "minimum" of their worldview.

The Founders had a concern to the point of paranoia about sectarian squabbles and persecution. And those squabbles were far likelier to take place on how to properly understand special revelation as opposed to how to properly understand the law of nature. That made the law of nature as opposed to "the Bible" a more attractive place for a lingua franca. The Bible was far more important to use by way of illustrative example and metaphor as opposed to proof texting for divinely commanded authority.

Thomas Jefferson for instance, may well have believed in the parts of the Bible that didn't make his razor's cut. But he thought St. Paul was full of it. The right to revolt against tyrants was discovered in nature through the use of reason. Romans 13 on its face seems to teach the very opposite of this. For Jefferson that's not a problem because he didn't believe anything Paul wrote was divinely inspired. But for those who did, they had to use the discovery from nature and then go back and reexamine Romans 13 in light of such.
 

Reference was made to "Revelation and divine sovereignty" and the discussion here shows how the lowest common denominator was an understanding that we should use human reason to examine nature's laws. And said reason was understood to lead to existence of God. Speaking of divine providence, a judge of the world (including in the afterlife) does suggest a sort of "divine sovereignty."

The professor did say it "sounded" a certain way. This might be because of a misunderstanding, using one's own understanding of the terms. I think some at the time of its writing themselves understood it differently than Jefferson and others might have thought. I'm inclined to think even some who actually signed it might have thought of it differently, not all of them deep thinkers on such questions.
 



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A fascinating book on the Deist origin of the term "Nature's God" during the late 18th century is Matthew Stewart's "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic". Lots of interesting historical documents and writing from this period give important context of this phrase in the Declaration.
 

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