Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Despite What Scalia Thinks, I Am Not a Second Class Citizen

Antonin Scalia continues his remorseless effort to push America toward a position where the government gives sanction and endorsement to certain religious beliefs (his)in preference to others. Scalia argues that since all government (in his view) derives ultimately from the authority of a single, unitary God, it is both permissible and desirable for governments at all levels to reflect this view, which he contends is held by the vast majority of believers. Setting aside for the moment whether it is Antonin Scalia's right to speak on behalf of all America's religiously devout people, what he is insisting on as "fact" is in reality simply belief, and the two do not necessarily coincide. Scalia believes that government is divinely inspired; he proposes no empirical test by which this could determined. There are in fact, no objective criteria that can be applied to this assertion. Scalia ignores all non-religious explanations for the institutions of law and government, although anthropologists, historians, and biologists have provided such explanations. (Edward O. Wilson, for example, argues that morality and law have their roots in human evolution. From the standpoint of natural selection,he contends, it was reproductively advantageous for a tribe to have rules which fostered group solidarity and internal cohesion.) If Scalia argued that religion has been used to justify government and law, he would be on solid ground. But he is arguing something much different--that all government and law are ultimately derived from the God of Mount Sinai, and here his argument rests on nothing but thin air.

The implications of Scalia's philosophy are huge and ominous. He is, by extension, arguing that since atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus (by some interpretations)and others do not believe in the "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" God, they are therefore in no position to object to the majority attempting to use the methods of government to promote and even impose their beliefs in the public square. It is almost as if he is saying that if you don't see the issue his way, you aren't really a truly first class American, and your views can be ignored.

I am not a Christian, but I believe in God. I think that all organized religions have profound flaws. I am attempting to work out my own relationship to that evolving universal intelligence that others personify with the word God. I think that government is a natural, humanly derived institution. And I think that despite Scalia's best efforts, I will not bend to the will of the "majority" (however that is defined) and simply keep silent when others try to use the law to push me to one side in my own country. I am just as much a true American as Scalia. Maybe even more so, because I have genuine respect for those with whom I disagree.

Some summaries and very cogent responses to Scalia can be found here, here, and here. (The last link is to a Buddhist site commenting on a March court decision involving the Ten Commandments.) They're all worth a read.

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