Atheist for Supreme Court?

supreme-courtThe Nation‘s Marc Cooper is generating some minor buzz with his suggestion that President Obama appoint an atheist to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

This is a no-brainer. The religious views of the next justice of the high court must absolutely be a decisive factor.

Though the court without Stevens will be left with six Catholics and two Jews, the open seat should not go to either domination. Nor should it go to a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, a Methodist, a Muslim or even a Zoroastrian. If it did, that would make nine people who all have one religious principle in common: a belief in religion.

Clearly, the next person to take the bench should be an atheist.

[…]

Having an atheist justice, however, would not primarily be a matter of identity politics and some sort of equal representation. Rather, a nonbeliever justice would be a mighty blow in favor of the secular principles of “reason and freedom” of which Jefferson spoke.

Heaven knows we could use some more of that stuff. Religion plays far too influential a role in our political and civic life as is. I personally don’t care what sort of superstition makes you sleep better at night, but I think we would all benefit if you left it behind closed doors and kept it as far away as possible from public policy. How about a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell?

We’ve got quite a way to go to get even close to the stark separationism that is constitutionally enshrined but far too often ignored. We’ve recently been humiliated by a spate of local school boards dominated by fundamentalist Christians, undermining the teaching of science and inching us back into the shadows of ignorance.

Cooper’s the kind of smarmy, insulting atheist that makes the rest of us look bad.  And I’ve redacted the paragraphs of gratuitous insults surrounding his argument.

Would I like to see us evolve so that an uncloseted atheist on the Court wouldn’t be a big deal?  Or where a majority avow they would not vote for an atheist for president, the only group so singled out in the Gallup survey?  Sure.

Would an atheist on the Court help push us in that direction, much as Sandra Day O’Connor pushed the normalization of women in high office?  Probably.

Do I support atheism as “a deciding factor” in picking the next Justice?  Absolutely not.  It’s just as insulting and silly to yield to identity politics on religious grounds as it is for race, ethnicity sex, or sexual orientation.  Just pick the best under-60 legal mind within the broad ideological orbit of the president that’s confirmable.

Alan Colmes justifies an atheist for the Court in an odd manner:  “So instead of trying to balance the court with someone who isn’t Catholic or Jewish, maybe it’s time to think outside of religion entirely.  Now that’s diversity!”   That’s true if and only if it happens naturally.  If the president is actively seeking an atheist, then — by definition — he’s not “think[ing] outside of religion entirely.”

Further, as AllahPundit (also an atheist) notes, “In a country where half the population is Protestant, good luck selling the public on the idea that it’s the godless who are underrepresented on the bench.”    Further, the politics aren’t exactly smart:  “I’d pay cash money to see The One stand up at the podium in the Rose Garden and make the case to voters that the Supreme Court’s big shortcoming is that it’s not hard enough on religion.”

Beyond all that, it’s quite likely Cooper is operating from a false premise.   It’s a virtual certainty that there has been an atheist on the Court by now; indeed, it’s quite likely one’s sitting on the bench now.    While atheism is a decidedly minority position in America writ large, it’s exceedingly common among the intellectual class which serves as the pool from with Supreme Court Justices are selected.

Yes, all the current returning Justices identify themselves as either Catholic or Jewish.  But both of those, especially the latter, are ethnoreligious identity groups as much as they’re religions.   Indeed, some 37 percent of American Jews identify themselves as non-religious.   There’s theoretically no such thing as a secular Catholic; in reality, though, they’re a fairly large subset of the American Catholic elite.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    James: you missed the most important reason, it is unconstitutional.

    Art VI;para 3:

    but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

  2. Franklin says:

    Cooper’s the kind of smarmy, insulting atheist that makes the rest of us look bad.

    Amen.

  3. Clovis says:

    six Catholics and two Jews, the open seat should not go to either domination.

    Talking ’bout God, where’s his goddamn editor?

    How do chuckleheads like this get published?

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Freedom of religion not freedom from religion. If you do not believe in a creator then our founding documents are found wanting. Our founders believed human rights came from our creator and therefore could not be taken away. If one does not believe in a creator, rights must issue forth from government itself, which can and will give and take away rights as it sees necessary. F*ck atheists.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    I thought the whole idea behind freedom of religion was we didn’t let it become a test for office. That means we don’t even make it a issue. Funny how some on the left now want it to be a major issue. Don’t they see where this road leads?

    The next nominee should be chosen based upon their record as a judge. Not their sex, religion, age, race, or any of the other things we supposed to put aside. Sure, I’m being naive but we should at least recognize the hypocrisy of how we are doing it.

  6. floyd says:

    Tom p is absolutely correct.

    Marc Cooper is a fool and a liar who advocates the rejection of the very principles he claims to espouse.

    While Marc may argue that every court deserves a Jester, we already have Stephen Breyer![lol]

    James;
    Your last two paragraphs show true insight and should be read until comprehended.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    The next nominee should be chosen based upon their record as a judge. Not their sex, religion, age, race, or any of the other things we supposed to put aside. Sure, I’m being naive but we should at least recognize the hypocrisy of how we are doing it.

    A basic understanding of the Constitution would be nice too, just saying…

  8. Proportional jurisprudence. Clearly an idea whose time has come.

  9. Franklin says:

    If one does not believe in a creator, rights must issue forth from government itself

    Is the Bill of Rights in the Old or New Testament?

  10. MarkedMan says:

    James’ point that a justice should be selected based on their judicial record sounds good, but closer examination finds it faulty. Being a supreme court justice is not a solo event, one where we can measure success and pick the highest scorer. The Supreme Court is a team, and a Justice should be picked who can add under represented expertise. So, if there were no justices who had been involved in say, criminal law, Obama should pick one from that background. If all justices came from families of corporate executives and none had any experience with blue collar work or owning a small business, Obama should try to fill that gap. Despite this, although I think the perspective of an atheist might be useful on the court, I would put it pretty far down the list. And as James correctly points out, we may very well have one or more on the court already.

  11. floyd says:

    “Is the Bill of Rights in the Old or New Testament?”
    “”””””””””””””””””””
    Read all three and find out first hand, better yet ask the Guy who granted them.

  12. floyd says:

    MarkedMan;
    Solid post,thanks.

  13. mannning says:

    One clear problem with putting an avowed atheist on the Supreme Court is that it an anathema to the Constitution’s foundations in Natural Law, which is something that no atheist can tolerate, since Natural Law is a reflection of God’s Eternal Law. No God–>no Natural Law–>no Constitution–>Inventive, Relativistic Secular Law.

    Natural Law is the basis for our rights and duties in this society, and ultimately, our civil laws as well, at least in that civil laws must not be contrary to Natural Law.

    Since fully 80-odd percent or more of the population believes in God and in the Constitution as based in Natural Law, putting an atheist on the Court would result in total violence to the will of the majority of our citizens, and to the Constitution itself.

    Of course, it is also true that the Constitution bars the use of religion as a criteria for office. Does atheism fall into this category of religion? I thought it was a non-religion, and hence it would do no violence to the Constitution to block such an appointment using avowed atheism as the reason.

  14. UlyssesUnbound says:

    Dammit GA, stop saying things I agree with and start saying things I can argue against.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    tom p, I think you misunderstand the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests.

    There will be no tests on the differences between Shakers and the Amish, no recitation of Luther’s 95 Thesis, and no essays comparing Baal worship with the later practices of the Sects of Cthulhu.

    Jefferson did very poorly on these tests in school and was very self-conscious about it.

  16. sam says:

    Natural Law is the basis for our rights and duties in this society, and ultimately, our civil laws as well, at least in that civil laws must not be contrary to Natural Law.

    Sez you.

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    I thought it was a non-religion

    um ah um,to be an atheist, you must believe that you have a total understanding of the Universe and everything within it, which defined by our understanding of definition makes you a god.

    So even seeing that your bases for your belief is that you don’t believe in your self should be enough to disqualify you, you most definably should not be able to be sworn in to such an office.

    Unless you change the law so that you can be sworn in on not only a bible but an autobiography.

  18. Matt says:

    Wow a lot of leaps of logic here.. I especially enjoyed manning’s post. I’ve never seen someone argue that an atheist wouldn’t believe in the constitution and I must give you props for a particularly ignorant post. I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had some secret atheist friends and doesn’t even realize it due to his incredible stereotyping ability..

  19. G.A.Phillips says:

    Sez you.

    Founding fathers Fridays, on Beck, on fox news, be there or be a square peg trying to fit in a round country….

  20. Matt says:

    oh and BTW GA the whole swearing in on a bible thing is usually just a photo op and is generally done after the completion of the real swearing in. The rest of your post is completely ignorant bullshit and pretty much the opposite of how atheism works. Atheists just refuse to believe there’s a magical bearded dude in the sky making stuff do the things it does. Understanding how the universe functions is completely irrelevant to that belief. IF anything you should be complaining that atheists are self worshiping satanists or whatever. Personally I consider the weak and the strong forces to be “god” but to each their own..

  21. Matt says:

    “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of the enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen…”

  22. sam says:

    @GA

    Founding fathers Fridays, on Beck, on fox news

    Don’t make me laugh, GA.

  23. Brett says:

    Cooper’s the kind of smarmy, insulting atheist that makes the rest of us look bad. And I’ve redacted the paragraphs of gratuitous insults surrounding his argument.

    Pray tell, what exactly was so “smarmy” and “insulting” about that op-ed he wrote? The part where he called “religion” bunk? Devout religious folk call the beliefs of other faiths as well as athiests in much worse terms. The part where he talked about how atheists were under-represented, as we are?

  24. Steve Plunk says:

    Matt,

    It’s not so much that atheists would not believe in the constitution as much as they would not understand the intent on the constitution by the framers. That’s an important part of ruling on a laws constitutionality.

    For me the fact the framers believed in a natural law, a law not granted by man but a higher power, means that I’m protected more from man’s quest to dominate other men. Even atheists should appreciate those ideas just as most atheists appreciate their religious neighbors and the morals they maintain.

    I have long advocated the best thing for an atheist is to be a member of a religious society. Sure there might be some irritation at times but the order and values brought to society by religion generally trumps the chaos without it.

    Manning’s post show’s me his appreciation for natural law’s place in our own system of laws. Something a judge should appreciate as well. Natural law is a balance to the power of government law. It protects individuals the same way the bill of rights does.

  25. Matt says:

    It’s not so much that atheists would not believe in the constitution as much as they would not understand the intent on the constitution by the framers. That’s an important part of ruling on a laws constitutionality.

    Are you really trying to claim you know the intent of people who created a document +200 years ago just because you believe in a fairy man? Did you miss the whole part about some of the framers not being particularly religious?

    For me the fact the framers believed in a natural law, a law not granted by man but a higher power, means that I’m protected more from man’s quest to dominate other men. Even atheists should appreciate those ideas just as most atheists appreciate their religious neighbors and the morals they maintain.

    Natural law which is exactly what Atheists believe in and not some magical fairy dude creating laws.

    I have long advocated the best thing for an atheist is to be a member of a religious society. Sure there might be some irritation at times but the order and values brought to society by religion generally trumps the chaos without it.

    You say that yet I know far too many religiously devout people who are far from moral or exhibiting what I would consider worthwhile values. To say that I cannot be moral or have values just because I refuse to believe in the Toothfairy is simply ridiculous. I grew up in a heavily religious town (6k people and litterly +20 churches) and I attended plenty of summer bible schools thank you…

    Manning’s post show’s me his appreciation for natural law’s place in our own system of laws. Something a judge should appreciate as well. Natural law is a balance to the power of government law. It protects individuals the same way the bill of rights does.

    Manning’s post shows me his complete ignorance of the motivations behind Atheism and his refusal to even acknowledge that you can’t simply clump people into groups with generic behaviors being attributed as a result.

  26. Matt says:

    BTW my earlier quote was directly from the Treaty of Tripoli which was ratified by congress and signed by President John Adams in 1796…

  27. mannning says:

    The point, Matt, is that without recognizing the absolute origin of our Constitution in God the Creator(where have I seen this word before?), atheists can pick and choose just how they want to see the Constitution construed and obeyed. In other words, they can have no fixed bounds to their interpretations of our laws if they don’t want to, which in the extreme means they don’t believe in the Constitution.

    We common folk have no way to judge just how an atheist would actually interpret the Constitution either, because he has admitted that he doesn’t recognize God as the source, while a Christian by definition does recognize such limits.

    Perhaps this is an explanation for some of the more egregious decisions of the Court, if one or two “closet atheists” are in residence for life.

    Steve Plunk put it nicely.

  28. mannning says:

    It is not that we clump behaviors, but that we have no basis for believing that an atheist, just any old atheist, would serve a proper role on the Court, since he by definition rejects the origin of our laws.

  29. Franklin says:

    mannning:

    One clear problem with putting an avowed atheist on the Supreme Court is that it an anathema to the Constitution’s foundations in Natural Law, which is something that no atheist can tolerate, since Natural Law is a reflection of God’s Eternal Law.

    You kind of lost me early in this post. I think you might find that most atheists embrace natural law. I can see why a religious person might think it is a reflection of “God’s Eternal Law,” as you put it, seeing as how they believe God created nature, but that’s not really the history of natural law. Greek philosophers came up with it before Christianity and other religions incorporated it.

    Steve Plunk:

    I have long advocated the best thing for an atheist is to be a member of a religious society. Sure there might be some irritation at times but the order and values brought to society by religion generally trumps the chaos without it.

    I actually think there might be some truth to this, but it’s impossible to prove one way or another. From personal experience, I know both religious and non-religious people who are immoral at times. It’s the same with well-known public figures. I see no obvious pattern correlating religion with values.

  30. mannning says:

    In order to prove that you, as an atheist, have a full and complete set of American moral values, you would have to state in writing each value you possess, and each individual law that you would uphold, which is a rather formidable task in itself that is shortcut by an avowed belief in God.

    Were you to be a jurist somehow, then your recorded decisions might represent your ethics properly, but even then your foundation in law would not substitute for your rejection of God.

    In fact, it would be a hypocritical lie for an atheist to swear to uphold the Constitution, including its origins, an act which in itself would disqualify him.

    Otherwise, we cannot know what you might do on the Court. You, or any atheist. You have rejected the key measure of the moral man insofar as most people are concerned.

  31. tom p says:

    Freedom of religion not freedom from religion.

    zelsdorf, you are the only person I know who can prove that another human being is not necessary for an argument with their first statement. Just exactly how can one have “freedom of religion” if one is not free from all other religions?

    Read all three and find out first hand, better yet ask the Guy who granted them.

    Floyd, as an avowed aetheist, just who is it I am supposed to ask? Will I hear an answer? Or do I have to read it in the writings of a thousand dead Jews and Christains?

    One clear problem with putting an avowed atheist on the Supreme Court is that it an anathema to the Constitution’s foundations in Natural Law, which is something that no atheist can tolerate, since Natural Law is a reflection of God’s Eternal Law.

    Manning, you are incorrrect. We aetheists have no problem with “God’s” Natural Law, just the various misinterpretations of it. It is why we countinue to seek the true “Natural Law” thru science.

    um ah um,to be an atheist, you must believe that you have a total understanding of the Universe and everything within it,

    GA: read the above. Some of us look to a “god” for understanding. Fine and dandy. Some of us look within ourselves for understanding. Fine and Dandy. Some of us look for science to answer some of these questions. Fine and dandy. Some of us use a combination of all three… Fine & Dandy. THIS aetheist… thinks he will never know the answers.

    tom p, I think you misunderstand the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests.

    PD: With all due respect, I think you misunderstand the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests. Here is a constitutional/religous test for you:

    How many times is “God” mentioned in the Constitution?

    Answer: Once… If you consider “The Year of Our Lord…” a mention of “God”. (Hell, I read that when I was growing up)(the 60’s)

    Truth is, none of us can read their minds (much less their souls) Difference between me and so many others? I am content with their words.

    “no religous test…”

  32. mannning says:

    Franklin, I am quite aware of the evolution of Natural Law, and I happen to believe that its evolution from even pre-Greek times was not mere chance. St.Thomas Aquinas in later times stated my belief most clearly.

  33. Matt says:

    The point, Matt, is that without recognizing the absolute origin of our Constitution in God the Creator(where have I seen this word before?), atheists can pick and choose just how they want to see the Constitution construed and obeyed.

    The absolute origin of the Constitution were men just like the absolute origin of the bible. Depending on what form of Christianity you follow your bible probably still supports slavery the subjugation of women and the killing of your fellow man amongst a variety of activities unrelated to this day and age. As for your Creator comment I’d like to point out that “Creator” is nowhere to be found in either the constitution or the bill of rights but it can be found in the declaration of independence.

    We common folk have no way to judge just how an atheist would actually interpret the Constitution either, because he has admitted that he doesn’t recognize God as the source, while a Christian by definition does recognize such limits.

    Some of the founders of this very nation were probably atheists or at least agnostic and they had no issue helping to develop the constitution and the varies laws that shaped this country at a very young “age”.

    Perhaps this is an explanation for some of the more egregious decisions of the Court, if one or two “closet atheists” are in residence for life.

    The explanation for those “egregious decisions” is that your perceptions didn’t line up with that of the court but that’s how a democracy works (a society rich with opinion).

  34. tom p says:

    In order to prove that you, as an atheist, have a full and complete set of American moral values,

    Manning: Just exactly what is

    a full and complete set of American moral values,

    I give anyone here 20 t0 1, no, 100 to 1 odds that you can not ennumerate and define them (and no, you can not use God… the founding fathers didn’t, neither can you)

  35. Matt says:

    In order to prove that you, as an atheist, have a full and complete set of American moral values, you would have to state in writing each value you possess, and each individual law that you would uphold, which is a rather formidable task in itself that is shortcut by an avowed belief in God.

    Yes because once you “believe” in god then everything you do is guided by “his” hand so naturally you could never do wrong…

  36. mannning says:

    Rich with unpredictable opinion is not what makes for justice on the highest court that is supposed to imterpret the law, not make it out of their imagination.

  37. Matt says:

    Rich with unpredictable opinion is not what makes for justice on the highest court that is supposed to imterpret the law, not make it out of their imagination.

    The conversation so far has me feeling that way…

  38. mannning says:

    It is the candidate atheist’s task to convince the powers that be that they would interpret, protect and defend the Constitution, and not veer off into their own fantasy land of how the nation should be allowed to operate, invent law, and by using science alone, God forbid? If they cannot do so and cannot, so help me God, swear to it, then they are not qualified to serve.

    One will never come close to fully understanding Natural Law through science alone, I believe, much less its real origins. How is that “Theory of Everything” coming along? Still sign up to the Multiverse Theory, which was invented to avoid accepting an Anthromorphic Universe? Have you solved anything important with String Theory? Can you delve into the conscious mind scientifically and read thoughts? You want to instrument Man and use your invented measures to help rule? If so, stay away from politics.

    If an atheist cannot enumerate his true beliefs sufficiently, he is suspect, since his entire structure of morality is not evident without something on paper that won’t blow away to judge by, to hold him hostage to, and to judge his acceptability to be a US Supreme Court Judge.

    That is not to say atheists do not have a moral system to guide them, but it is not evident just where their moral system would take the nation. At least there is some assurance of direction if the candidate does believe in God, although who knows in the end what a person will turn out to believe in and do once seated in the court for life? We gamble every time with appointments.

  39. Matt says:

    Your problem is you refuse to acknowledge that there were atheists involved with the founding of this nation and the creation of the documents governing said nation. You also refuse to acknowledge that this country at a very early stage clearly announced it was not a Christian nation. With those facts in mind I have no idea why you cannot believe an atheist would understand the documents as well as a Christian. Are you limiting the interpretations to just your religion or do you believe followers of other religions such as Islam or Buddhism can to?

  40. Matt says:

    Does Scientology also pass your religious test?

  41. mannning says:

    Yes, it is unreal and hyperimaginative to believe that the citizenry or the Senate, can accept atheism as the guiding principle of a Justice of the SCOTUS, or many other offices in the government.

  42. Matt says:

    Yet this young nation specifically declared it to not be a Christian nation thus rejecting religion…

    Just because you find it hard to believe doesn’t mean the facts are automatically on your side 😛

  43. Matt says:

    I personally believe the constitution itself should be the guiding principles of a Justice of SCOTUS but apparently we disagree about that too..

  44. G.A.Phillips says:

    Don’t make me laugh, GA.

    I forgot you liberals hate laughing or feeling good, heck I was liberal for so long it’s still hard for me too.

    But man it’s a great chance to learn some real history about our founders and our history as a nation.

    And I’m pretty sure that have I shown most of you that the Supreme Court studied our countries founding documents and such FOR TEN YEARS AND CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT

    “THIS IS A RELIGIOUS PEOPLE, THIS IS A CHRISTIAN NATION”

    But I guess you can just keep reading history books writing by anti American progressives that have nothing to do with any FACTS just ideology, this AMERICA after all….

  45. sam says:

    @manning

    The point…is that without recognizing the absolute origin of our Constitution in God the Creator(where have I seen this word before?), atheists can pick and choose just how they want to see the Constitution construed and obeyed. In other words, they can have no fixed bounds to their interpretations of our laws if they don’t want to, which in the extreme means they don’t believe in the Constitution.

    If that’s meant to imply that theists are free of this taint, it is, of course, the purest of bullshit. Let me ask you theists something. Suppose a dispute arises about, say, a law’s scope. The debate goes like this:

    Advocate A: That is contrary to natural law, therefore it is deficient.

    Advocate B: What do you mean? It’s perfectly consistent with natural law. Here let me show you. [Produces interpretation]

    Advocate A: Your interpretation is faulty.

    Advocate B: Prove it.

    Advocate A: [Produces interpretation]

    (As I’m sure you folks are aware, if only dimly, this pretty much tracks the history of religious strife in western civilization. Think Catholics vs. Protestants; Everybody vs. the Jews. Etc., etc., all to sadly, etc.)

    How are we to adjudicate between these conflicting interpretations of what the natural law is? Is there any way to do this within the natural law tradition without begging the question (I mean here, committing the fallacy of petitio principii)? I think not. The natural law is supposedly revealed to reason. But if there is a dispute about what reason is said to reveal, where are we to look to resolve the dispute? Scripture? As if that’s not subject to conflicting interpretation, too. The writings of the learned in natural law? Uh, ditto. Really, c’mon. And if there is a political outcome hinging on one or the other of the two interpretations, which do you think will prevail? The one with the lesser political backing or the one with the greater? And the political backing will have damn little to do with natural law, unless you want to argue that naked self-interest is always consistent with natural law. Look, I’m pretty sure that had you polled slave-holders in antebellum America, you would have uniformly gotten the response that slavery was consistent with natural law. (In fact you can go and find a bazillion references to the natural superiority of the white race and inferiority of the black and that’s why slavery is ok…blah, blah, blah.) The point is, you can invoke natural law all you want, but it is the interpretation of natural law that counts. And, like the man said in another context, there are no rules for following rules. Similarly, there is no natural law to which we can look for the correct interpretation of natural law. Its invocation gets us no further along, really.

  46. Franklin says:

    Franklin, I am quite aware of the evolution of Natural Law …

    I thought you might!

    … and I happen to believe that its evolution from even pre-Greek times was not mere chance.

    Well I think there’s the disparity.

  47. mannning says:

    Let me ask a question to the multitudes here that appear to be atheists. Where are your guiding principles written down? Where is your equivalent
    to the Gospels, the Nicene Creed, the Catechism, the Devine Law, Natural Law, etc.

    My belief is that few of us ordinary Christian folks know what an atheist does actually believe in, how strong and constant his commitment is to those beliefs and morals, and how he would perform in such an office as a Justice, especially when the subject of religious beliefs is a key element in a decision.

    If you start with the attitude, such as has been expressed here before, that we might as well believe in the toothfairy and ghosts, I would not want to be in that Court, ever!

    In my opinion, I reflect the attitude of most Christians towards the matter of a possible atheistic judge on SCOTUS. Our very ignorance of what each individual atheist believes represents a serious block, and somehow, I cannot believe that all atheists believe even close to the same principles uniformly, just as there are many sects in Christianity whose beliefs differ to some greater or lesser degree.

    For that matter, there are many philosophies one could adopt in lieu of a religion that would be a disaster on the Court–materialism, objectivism, or logical positivism for instance–again, in my opinion.

  48. mannning says:

    Another comment I must make. In my opinion, it does not matter at all whether the Founders were Christian, Deists, atheists, or whatever. What matters is their construction of a Constitution that has endured for well over two centuries.

    As in the case of Natural Law, the deliberations and opinions that were coelesced into the final document were guided by God and right reason. George Wshington expressed much the same opinion when the convention was finished, as did Jefferson.

  49. mannning says:

    My little finger did not reach the “a” in Washington; my fault.

  50. sam says:

    As in the case of Natural Law, the deliberations and opinions that were coelesced into the final document were guided by God and right reason.

    Pity that God and right reason didn’t see fit the guide the writing of the document so as to prevent the Civil War.

  51. mannning says:

    I take your point, Sam, and would remark that that is one very good reason that the number of Judges on the Court are nine in number. They are ever trying to find the greatest common ground in their respective opinions…

  52. mannning says:

    Sam:
    Now we are going further afield for sure. Isn’t there an old saying that you cannot legislate morality? How would you go about attempting that in writing the Constitution to head off the Civil War in the face of the mores of a society in the South that, rightly or wrongly, had been in place for over a century? Would there have been an acceptance of the Constitution by the Southern States if such provisions had been in the document? The depth of feeling and resistance to such an approach can be measured by the fact of the war itself.

    I am not defending the South, merely citing the obvious.

  53. Matt says:

    Where are your guiding principles written down? Where is your equivalent
    to the Gospels, the Nicene Creed, the Catechism, the Devine Law, Natural Law, etc.

    Do you still engage in slavery and all those wonderful things that society has deemed to be inhumane but which your bible preaches!? Having a written set of “rules” or “morality” doesn’t seem to be helping a very large percentage of Christians. My guiding principles are always in flux changing as society advances and new information is brought forth. Generally though I go by the “golden rule” of do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.

    My belief is that few of us ordinary Christian folks know what an atheist does actually believe in, how strong and constant his commitment is to those beliefs and morals, and how he would perform in such an office as a Justice, especially when the subject of religious beliefs is a key element in a decision.

    Atheists don’t even know that as people are always different. Hell I don’t even know what some Christian folks believe in as they obviously are not living by the word of Jesus..

    If you start with the attitude, such as has been expressed here before, that we might as well believe in the toothfairy and ghosts, I would not want to be in that Court, ever!

    I actually believe in ghosts as I’ve had some major encounters with unexplainable phenomenon that were generally called “ghosts”. I believe eventually our sciences will advance far enough to explain ghosts as purely a product of physics.

    In my opinion, I reflect the attitude of most Christians towards the matter of a possible atheistic judge on SCOTUS. Our very ignorance of what each individual atheist believes represents a serious block, and somehow, I cannot believe that all atheists believe even close to the same principles uniformly, just as there are many sects in Christianity whose beliefs differ to some greater or lesser degree.

    So you acknowledge that Christians sects vary wildly in principles and beliefs yet you assault Atheists for having the same “issues” without ever considering your precious religion suffers from the same flaws.

    For that matter, there are many philosophies one could adopt in lieu of a religion that would be a disaster on the Court–materialism, objectivism, or logical positivism for instance–again, in my opinion.

    I find adopting Christianity as the guiding force for the court to be a disaster but to each his own..

    Another comment I must make. In my opinion, it does not matter at all whether the Founders were Christian, Deists, atheists, or whatever. What matters is their construction of a Constitution that has endured for well over two centuries.

    It does totally as you’re trying to claim that in order to interpret this document written by atheists deists and such that you HAVE to be Christian. How in the world can an Atheist be involved in the creation of this document but then suddenly be incapable of interpreting it after it’s been ratified? You’re completely abandoning logic here buddy.

    As in the case of Natural Law, the deliberations and opinions that were coelesced into the final document were guided by God and right reason. George Wshington expressed much the same opinion when the convention was finished, as did Jefferson.

    Oh yeah? And a few years later several of the founders in the senate and the president ratified a treaty that specifically said we’re NOT and never have been a Christian nation. See I actually think there’s a lot of good points in the bible and those good points coalesced into my morality but that doesn’t suddenly make me a Christian..

  54. Matt says:

    Oh and thanks for the wonderfully civil discussion.

  55. Matt says:

    Thomas Jefferson had many holy books including a Koran so who’s to say where his inspiration came from? Hell the man himself was probably a deist of some kind.

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.

    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

  56. Matt says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have time to find Washington quotes but I’ll find those after work. Peace be with you.

  57. mannning says:

    Having a written set of “rules” or “morality” doesn’t seem to be helping a very large percentage of Christians. My guiding principles are always in flux changing as society advances and new information is brought forth.

    —Matt

    Since there are far more Christians than atheists, there are undoubtedly more sinners in their ranks in absolute terms, and they would be far more noticeable. That is the sinner’s fault, not the religion’s. Moral decay and moral relativism set in some time ago. It is corrupting and dispicable in the entire population–atheists included.

    It is certainly fine for you to follow the trends, but for a Judge to follow the latest fluctuating trends of the will of society and to ignore the fixed law is not so swift at all. Having a set of written laws that all can understand and be judged by is a huge benefit to Man, don’t you think?

    There is a major question as to whether society is advancing or not. I do not see the advancement in moral values; I do not see the advancement in ability to think and reason; I do not see the advancement in comity and politeness; I do not see the advancement in faith, hope and charity; nor do I see any advancement in the virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, or in self-sufficiency and survivability. In fact, I do not see any real solid advancement in philosophy either, since virtually every one of the popular brands and their combinations have long since been shown to be logically flawed.

    Just where do you see any grand advancement in what really matters? Science? Ok, we have some better material theories and gadgets such as the internet. Big deal. Ah! We have the bombs, too! At least we survived the eugenics experience that practically every important scientist of the 30’s signed up to. I am not yet sure we will survive the AGW kick of today but there is hope! Sane scientists do come forward.

    I believe that the human race has not really advanced mentally or spiritually at all since Biblical times, and they have an emormous collection of highly specialized data and information to confuse and obfuscate them now. Further, I do not believe in the perfectability of Man: he is good and he is evil, has been for many millenia, and will continue to be so.

  58. Robert Prather says:

    James,

    You should have more posts about atheists; it makes the comments more interesting and more numerous.

  59. Matt says:

    Since there are far more Christians than atheists, there are undoubtedly more sinners in their ranks in absolute terms, and they would be far more noticeable. That is the sinner’s fault, not the religion’s. Moral decay and moral relativism set in some time ago. It is corrupting and dispicable in the entire population–atheists included.

    I can agree with you on that one.

    It is certainly fine for you to follow the trends, but for a Judge to follow the latest fluctuating trends of the will of society and to ignore the fixed law is not so swift at all. Having a set of written laws that all can understand and be judged by is a huge benefit to Man, don’t you think?

    Well the problem is if the judges and leaders of this nation followed your thinking then we’d still have slavery and only wealthy white men would be allowed to vote (among other things).

    There is a major question as to whether society is advancing or not. I do not see the advancement in moral values; I do not see the advancement in ability to think and reason; I do not see the advancement in comity and politeness; I do not see the advancement in faith, hope and charity; nor do I see any advancement in the virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, or in self-sufficiency and survivability. In fact, I do not see any real solid advancement in philosophy either, since virtually every one of the popular brands and their combinations have long since been shown to be logically flawed.

    Well as I look back over the hundreds of years I see a great deal of advancement. For example we no longer burn women at the stake for trying to educate themselves (which Christianity condoned). There’s plenty of examples of us as a species advancing in our thought processes and certainly in our ability to reason. As for the rest all I can say is that we as a species have a tendency to see the past through rose colored glasses. Every generation waxes and wanes about the moral decay of society and how things used to be so much better but reality really doesn’t live up to those notions.

    Just where do you see any grand advancement in what really matters? Science? Ok, we have some better material theories and gadgets such as the internet. Big deal. Ah! We have the bombs, too! At least we survived the eugenics experience that practically every important scientist of the 30’s signed up to. I am not yet sure we will survive the AGW kick of today but there is hope! Sane scientists do come forward.

    Wow you’re beyond hope if you cannot see the dramatic increase in not only the quality of life but the actual lifespan of the average American or any of the other major advancements in civilization. I do admit that there are people out there who would disagree about my quality of life statement. There’s always people who prefer the quiet farm life to the busy ADD riddled modern life.

    I believe that the human race has not really advanced mentally or spiritually at all since Biblical times, and they have an emormous collection of highly specialized data and information to confuse and obfuscate them now. Further, I do not believe in the perfectability of Man: he is good and he is evil, has been for many millenia, and will continue to be so.

    Your insistence on sticking to dogma despite the facts being contrary leads me to believe your are partially correct. I am of course referring to what prompted this discussion and not the application of Christianity to normal daily life.

  60. James Joyner says:

    You should have more posts about atheists; it makes the comments more interesting and more numerous.

    Indeed! Maybe I should start a religion blog!

  61. mannning says:

    Let us differentiate between the American way of life and the rest of humanity. Certainly there are a few local successes, mostly in the West, but on the average, what I maintain for humanity around the world is true.

    What other advances are you calling out, Matt?
    I see no relative percentage increase in genius levels of intelligence, I see no great breakthroughs in humanity, I see no increase in ability to reason, even in America or the West in general. I give you Obama’s election as a case in point. I see no improvement even in America for education.

    I certainly do not see a resurgence of religion, unless you want to count Islam as a peaceful religion, bombs and all. Your quality of life argument holds for a goodly percentage of Americans, not all, for sure, but this is mainly from increases in material wealth, not mental or spiritual progress. Such wealth ought to allow for great mental and spiritual progress, but just count the hours per person per year watching the wasteland of TV, or porn on the web.

    They are still stoning people to death in the ME and other Islamic nations for all manner of their sins against Shariah. Need I go nation by nation to show the pitiful state of things for most of the world’s population? Genocide in many places? Persistent poverty? War and insurrection?

    Within science, I will agree that medical science has progressed enormously for Americans and a few other nations; but, adequate medical care is not reaching most of the world’s population, and not even here!

    Christinity has indeed stopped its greatest evils, but has it made any true progress recently in bringing the “good news” to people and having them respond positively?

    In short, American and Western progress, such as it is, is not my sole measure.

  62. mannning says:

    Damn “a” again.

  63. mannning says:

    Matt: Was I really abandoning logic, or is it that you refuse to understand what influences were at work at the convention, and what that probably meant to each participant’s thinking, both during the convention and afterwards?

    The progression of the Court’s makeup was ever in the direction of Judeo-Christian judges. Seems fine to me!

  64. Matt says:

    Let us differentiate between the American way of life and the rest of humanity. Certainly there are a few local successes, mostly in the West, but on the average, what I maintain for humanity around the world is true.

    Buddy China/India and crew are quickly becoming powerhouses in the information age.

    I see no relative percentage increase in genius levels of intelligence, I see no great breakthroughs in humanity, I see no increase in ability to reason, even in America or the West in general. I give you Obama’s election as a case in point. I see no improvement even in America for education.

    Well then I’m not sure how you have a computer then if that’s your observation. Meanwhile I’m sitting here with litterly all the information in the world at my finger tips and until recently no human has had access to so much data. Then again you’re probably a young earther so you don’t believe we’ve evolved at all and that the dark ages weren’t much different from today. I mean shit just the other day I had to burn the body of my brother because the black plague got him. It’s too bad too he was a good guy but since we haven’t advanced at all we still don’t have a cure 🙁

    I certainly do not see a resurgence of religion, unless you want to count Islam as a peaceful religion, bombs and all. Your quality of life argument holds for a goodly percentage of Americans, not all, for sure, but this is mainly from increases in material wealth, not mental or spiritual progress. Such wealth ought to allow for great mental and spiritual progress, but just count the hours per person per year watching the wasteland of TV, or porn on the web.

    See this is the fundamental difference between us. I’ve witnessed religion up close and personal and I’ve decided humanity would be a lot better off if we stopped pretending we knew what god wanted and stopped being so fucking arrogant. You on the other hand think that you’re an instrument of a higher power and as such a person of natural superiority to those unwashed masses who haven’t embraced your religion. Pretty much any religion can be used as an excuse to kill your fellow man (bombs and all). Some people decide to use the wealth for what you divine as good reasons and some people decide to use it for what they consider good reasons (pron). I agree with you that fundamentally we are still a sexually driven race feeding off our primitive emotions and dogmas. I too yearn for an enlightening of the masses.

    They are still stoning people to death in the ME and other Islamic nations for all manner of their sins against Shariah. Need I go nation by nation to show the pitiful state of things for most of the world’s population? Genocide in many places? Persistent poverty? War and insurrection?

    They are still stoning people to death in some back ass christian areas so that only proves my point that religion is inherently used for evil and good by humanity. I cannot argue with any of the rest of that statement as I’m actually in total agreement with you. Humanity has a lot of growing up to do as a species and if we don’t get to it we just might not make it in the long run.

    Within science, I will agree that medical science has progressed enormously for Americans and a few other nations; but, adequate medical care is not reaching most of the world’s population, and not even here!

    Yes because any attempt to help more people reach it here is met with industry powerhouses funding groups of people screaming SOCIALISM COMMUNISM!!!

    Christinity has indeed stopped its greatest evils, but has it made any true progress recently in bringing the “good news” to people and having them respond positively?

    Yes as a whole Christianity has for the most part shaped up and stopped advocating the massacres of nonbelievers and such (although smaller acts still occur but are not sanctioned by world wide churches for the most part). I can’t answer your question as I am only able to see Christianity clearly from my view. My view is if more Christians acted like Jesus they’d get a hell of a lot farther.

    Was I really abandoning logic, or is it that you refuse to understand what influences were at work at the convention, and what that probably meant to each participant’s thinking, both during the convention and afterwards?

    Yes there’s no doubt there was a variety of influences floating around during such a relatively large convention. The problem I have is you believe that only true believers (as in the ones who follow your specific religion) can interpret the results of all these wildly varying beliefs coming together into two documents.

    The progression of the Court’s makeup was ever in the direction of Judeo-Christian judges. Seems fine to me!

    What I’d really like to know is what the judges REALLY believed. If I was going to run for public office or try to be a judge you know damned well I’d claim to be a Christian..

  65. mannning says:

    At this, the end of this little conversation, it is obvious that we are talking past each other, and beginning to lose comity. As usual, neither of us has budged an inch from our convictions; at least I haven’t for sure.

    At the end of the day, I wish to be judged by Christian Judges if I need judging, and fear any others as most likely being biased in quite another mysterious direction that I cannot make sense of, and cannot get anyone to explain to me and convince me why an atheist judge would be better for mankind or on the SCOTUS.

    In fact, it appears that atheists are all running in significantly different directions as you stated, with few if any common grounds with me, either philosophically, religiously, or politically.

    God help me if I draw one inadvertantly!

    Have a nice weekend.

    Goodbye.

  66. Matt says:

    At this, the end of this little conversation, it is obvious that we are talking past each other, and beginning to lose comity. As usual, neither of us has budged an inch from our convictions; at least I haven’t for sure.

    Yeah we’ve way off topic by this point 😛

    God help me if I draw one inadvertantly!

    Very likely you have already and didn’t even realize it. Like I said earlier I identify as a Christian in the workplace to prevent issues like this..

    Have a nice weekend.

    You too bro hope you can still enjoy your mother 🙂

  67. Matt says:

    Oh and thanks to whoever got my post up. For some reason I occasionally run afoul of the spam protector thing 🙁