More on Moore
The line "don't know much about history" comes to mind.
As Doug Mataconis noted already, the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has a novel interpretation of religious freedom in the US. I wanted to further comment on the specific words in question, as they play into a general theme of my thoughts of late as they relate to claims linked to history and the the founding of the US in general. Far too often there are claims made about the past in a way that allegedly prove some contemporary notion regarding the interpretation the Constitution or of contemporary politics that are simply nonsensical and should, upon examination, lead us to question those making said claims. In general I find it both fascinating (and maddening) that persons living now will make claims about the constitution that run directly contrary to things that happened in the founding era.* Worse, the claims in question typically try to use the Founders or the Framers** are proof of the claim—the resultant pretzel logic is enough to give one a migraine.
Really, this type of discussion is part of a broader consideration of the fact that we, as Americans, tend to get very wrapped up in the founding (both the myth and the reality, although mostly the myth) but we also often we don’t understand it all the way we think we do. We like to treat The Founding writ large as some sort of religious text that requires only the recitation of the appropriate “proof text” to settle an argument. That is a rather simplistic approach to the complexity that is reality. More to the point: if one is going to use citation of past as some sort of special argument about the present, then one needs to understand the past about which one is arguing.
At any rate, on to Moore:
“Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.
“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he continued. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”
Yes, let’s stop playing games and let’s look at history:
1. Buddhism does not claim that Buddha created the universe.
2. Islam does not claim that Mohammed created the universe.***
(Side note: I would be willing to wager that Moore’s thought process on these first two items is far more linked to a song back in the late 1970s by the Christian group The Imperials (lyrics here) which was popular in evangelical circles in the 1980s as it is to any actual thoughts on comparative religion).
3. The totality of American politics and views of religion cannot be reduced to whatever was brought over on “the pilgrim ship” (I assume he means the Mayflower—which comes across as maybe a first grade level, at best, understanding of American history).
4. It really is a trick to ignore the plain meaning of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” One can argue about the ways to regulate “establishment” but the free exercise clause is pretty straightforward.
5. George Washington (“Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport“):
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Washington was, for those scoring at home, a Founder and a Framer.
6. Article 11 of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (Signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796)
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 enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
This was ratified by a Senate full of Framers and Founders and was signed by Founder John Adams.
So, yes, let’s “learn our history” and “stop playing games.”
I will note that yes, in the early goings of the republic most people would have professed Christianity (as is the case now). This does not mean, however, that religious protections are just for Christians (or, more accurately, Moore’s views of Christians).
As an adjunct to the above, Moore need to read some Locke (A Letter Concerning Toleration): “the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind…”
Indeed (especially the part I emphasized).
*A recent Facebook debate with a fellow about the federal government’s ability to own property and the resultant discussion of the Louisiana Purchase comes to mind.
**I distinguish between the Founders, which includes the various politicians and relevant actors in and around the founding of the US and the Framers of the Constitution who were present at the Philadelphia convention. For example, James Madison is both a Framer and a Founder, but Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are both Founders only.
***Update: BTW, I recognize that Moore is not claiming this exactly. I am just struck by the poor comparison here: naming the main prophets/teachers of these religions makes no sense in a claim about creation (but citing these figures is not uncommon for simplistic evangelical arguments that are made to other evangelicals).
Thank you for this Steven. Moore is an ignorant rube who apparently doesn’t even realize that Islam is based on the same Old Testament he worships. It also appears he has zero knowledge of the thoughts and writings of our founding fathers who were products of the enlightenment..
To your point, we need to look at the actions that those, primarily Christian founders and framers actually took.
Again, I think one of the most powerful, and oft overlooked facts, that adds significant perspective to the role of *any* religion in the founding of the US is that the Framers (to use your term Steven) made no direct reference to God or a Creator in the Constitution.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation both contain multiple explicitly references to God/Creators/Great Governors of the World.
The Constitution? None. And it’s not that this went unnoticed at the time — since the Constitution’s ratification there were efforts to amend it to include an explicit reference to God.
@matt bernius: An excellent point. Indeed, in the context of Moore it is especially significant since he loves the fact that the Alabama constitution references God and uses it as a key reasons why constitutional reform in the state should not happen.
I often wonder if politicians are appealing to kindergartener conceptions of religion because it resonates with the most voters, or because it’s the highest understanding they can muster.
@Tillman: When I read that quote I literally envisioned a child’s crayon drawing of a boat with pilgrims that might be drawn around Thanksgiving time, “See, Mama, it’s the pilgrim ship!”
In cases like Moore, those reasons may not be mutually exclusive.
Snark aside, its hard to imagine anyone who has made it through law school is stupid enough to believe what he said …
@Steven L. Taylor:
BTW, something funny occurs to me:
If one is seriously putting forward the argument that the US Constitution is divinely inspired, then it follows that said person should believe that God intentionally left him/her-self out of the document in the first place. Perhaps God had a good reason for such a choice and we should respect his/her decision.
It should also be noted that the US legal system derives from Norse (i.e. pagan) culture and explicitly rejects the inquisitorial system the Bible calls for. There’s a reason there book in the bible is called Judges, not Juries.
@george: I am no admirer of Moore’s and wish he would leave politics. Having said that, I don’t think he is an idiot, but rather I think he has this profoundly simplistic view of religion that he allows to overshadow his basic understanding of US history and politics. On this topic he sounds like family members of mine who are from rural Alabama and who did not get out of High School.
Fair, but sadly this sort of thing happens all the time. And it’s not limited to lawyers.
As someone pointed out on a recent thread, Mayim Bialik hold a PhD in Neuroscience and is also a spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement and a believer in homeopathy.
@matt bernius: Good point.
From what I have heard and read, Judge Moore is a nice, honest person who is also a fair and highly competent judge that many lawyers respect. That being said, I would disagree of his religious views coming into usage and determination when it comes to judicial proceedings and judgements. His actual quotes bring up many points concerning this country’s history.
I asked this potentially dumb question in the other thread- Where does Moore say the 1st amendment only applies to Christians.
I know there’s a video at the website. But if its in the video, then the writer of the article fails Journalism 101. The direct quote should be in the article.
@BIll: In the video Moore makes the argument that the word “religion” in the First Amendment should be narrowly defined and that was why he wanted his Ten Commandments case to go to the Supreme Court so that they would be forced to define it as Christian. A transcription would be helpful, although it really wasn’t a simple quote.
To further clarify:
1. He makes an argument that we (humans) owe allegiance to the creator (and he cites, as he often does, historical quotes that he thinks are evidence of his claim).
2. He notes, as I did above, that (in his view) only the Christian God is the creator.
3. Only proper religion acknowledges the creator,
4. Ergo, the first amendment really only refers to the Christian God.
(that is my cude, blog comment version).
It is not a new claim for him, that there is a special definition of the word “religion”
Back in 2005:
Moore has a very specific view of the notion of government “acknowledging God” and it is a very specific conservative Christian view thereof.
Here is the relevant passage:
He is stating that the term “religion” in the first amendment *is* “Christianity” (i.e. the Religion of the Pilgrims). You *might* be able to squint and get Judaism in there, but he is explicitly excluding Islam and Buddhism.
Following this logic, he just said that the first Amendment should be read as:
Here’s a slightly longer transcript I just found that adds a bit more of the context that Steven was discussing:
@Steven L. Taylor:
Steven’s quote of Moore:
Which James Madison thought was unconstitutional.
The article says ‘declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians’. Unfortunately he never said freedom of religion doesn’t apply to non-Christians. Those who quote the transcript might be right about your and the journalist’s interpretation but we’re raking Moore over the coals for what we think he means based on an article that giving the journalist’s interpretation. It makes for a great headline and people talking about Moore, whereas if you give the words without the interpretation, there may have been either this or Doug’s post on Moore.
The media loves to spin their bias into the news. Just this week NBC used the term ‘violet crime’ when talking about that execution in Oklahoma. Since when is capital punishment a crime?
@Timothy Watson: Details, details.
@BIll: While the exact sentence you want is not in the passage quoted above, the meaning is pretty clear. This is not a case of spin. Moore thinks that government ought to “acknowledge God” and by this he means the Christian God. To accomplish this goal and make it constitutional he has to redefine the meaning of the word “religion” in the First Amendment.
Did he not just say that when the framers wrote the first Amendment, they really meant Christians?
Yes or no.
If it’s yes, which it pretty clearly is, explain how the First Amendment covers anything beyond Christians.
It does seem to read that way.
I wonder if he’s got any theories to why they wouldn’t just have used the word “Christian” instead of “religion” – perhaps he believes the founders had never heard of any other religion, and so thought ‘Christian’ and ‘religion’ were synonyms?
@Steven L. Taylor:
Which is exactly what he does in the quote.
Let’s parse it line by line
He’s clearly stating here that *religion*, in regards to the first amendment hasn’t been properly defined. In fact he’s saying that everyone — including the SC — has failed to get it right.
He intentionally attempted to get the SC to define *religion* but they didn’t.
But he will:
He is saying that religion — for the purposes of the first amendment — is the worship of the God of the Holy Scriptures. Which, despite them being a religion of the Book, doesn’t include Islam. Which, by proxy calls into question whether Judaism counts, since they don’t workship Christ.
He then doubles down on the concept:
He’s tying it to the “founding” of the country (or at least the Massachusetts colony), which was founded by Christians. Further, he’s again *explicitly* saying Islam doesn’t count as the Religion in this context.
I have a hard time understanding how, if one believes that the *religion* in the first amendment ONLY means X, they can also believe that the rights of other religions are protected by the same Amendment.
Please explain that one @Bill.
BTW, my prediction is that, over the next few days, we’re going to get a lot more quotes that Mr. Moore has made in the past on this topic that are *not* going to help his defender’s case.
I’ll admit up front that I’m an atheist but I really have difficulty finding any difference between Christianists like Moore and the Taliban.
There’s a weird parallel here with opposition to marriage equality. If you define religion to mean only Christianity, then it logically follows that nothing you do to Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Vodun is “prohibiting the free exercise of religion”, because those don’t count as ‘religion’. They are all perfectly free to practice Christianity. Very much like defining marriage to mean only your kind of marriage.
@BIll: and it was answered in the other thread.
I think you need to dial the hyperbole back some.
While Moore’s goal is to make America a more “Christian” nation, there are HUGE differences between him and the Taliban. The most important one being that Moore is working within an existing system of government. The Taliban created and seeks to create an Islamic state though military action against existing governments. Nor has he yet demonstrated any tendency to enact his religious beliefs on others through the use of violence. And, while I disagree with him and his interpretation of Christianity, I don’t believe that he would stoop to such levels.
The far better comparison would be with members of Mr Erdogan’s coalition in Turkey. The goal is still the same — moving a secular government towards becoming a religious government through legal means.
Thank you for another excellent comment on this issue.
I expect that you realize this, but not only is this common (and bad) practice in political science, history, and law, it is also common (and equally bad) practice in theology. It may well be that such bad practice in theology is what gives “thinkers” such as more the cover for their simplistic approaches–their audience is used to such reductionist thinking and so accepts it as true and logical here also (especially since it panders to their existing biases).
Thank you for saying that. I realize that many who frequent this site are relentlessly (maybe even hostile-ly) secular. I still am amazed that people here can say such things as Mr. Beasley said without noticing the irony.
Standing by for downvotes in 4…3…2…
@Ron Beasley: @george: @matt bernius: It’s all very bizarre to me. Moore is a highly intelligent, well educated man. With no elite connections (his dad was a construction worker) he got into and graduated West Point and later Alabama’s law school. I’m not sure where it ranked then, but it’s now a top 25 school, ranking just behind George Washington and USC and just ahead of William & Mary.
I don’t know if this is flim-flam aimed at the rubes or if he’s just managed to shut out any and all facts that conflict with what he learned in Sunday School.
@Matt Bernius: Except that Moore et al. want to destroy the existing government, as it exists today, as soon as they gain control of it. And, by denying that anyone but themselves have rights under the constitution, isn’t violence going to be the natural offshoot?
I honestly don’t think it’s flim-flam, either that or he’s managed to keep the act up, consistently, for years. I think all of this comes down the the fact he puts faith in front of facts.
The issue is that ultimately, if pressed, I suspect that Justice Moore would list himself as a Christian first, and then an America. I think, on some level, this is about him working to resolve that schism.
To the degree that the First Amendment = Government, then yes. But if you accept that, wouldn’t the same be true of all the Liberals/Progressives who want to alter/redefine/repeal the second amendment?
I think that’s a step too far with that statement. At best, he’s restricting “freedom of religion.” It’s still vulgar, but he’s not advocating the removal of all rights or that the Constitution writ large only applies to Christians.
That’s an interesting comparison. While I agree with you that comparisons with the Taliban are absurd and counterproductive, there is one key difference between Moore’s position and Erdogan’s. Erdogan knows that Ataturk’s vision was explicitly secular, and he’s trying to undo that. Moore is claiming that the Founders’ vision was explicitly Christian, and that we have drifted from that. I think it’s an important difference.
Excellent point. +1
BTW, Dr Taylor, is the pun/word play in the title of this article intentional? Or just a happy accident?
It’s hard to see how anyone arguing from the texts of the founding documents is trying to destroy the existing government. That kind of re-interpretation is even less of a revolution than you get between the various governments of France since Napoleon. He’s not proposing to change anything except judicial interpretation, so far as I can tell.
@Matt Bernius: @DrDaveT:
Roy Moore, among other things, has said the government should punish “homosexual behavior”, that Muslims should be barred from holding public office, and that language requiring segregated schools and permitting poll taxes in the Alabama Constitution should be retained. His longtime friend, and biggest campaign donor, is a member of the white supremacist organization, the League of the South.
@Timothy Watson: I didn’t say he isn’t a deluded wingnut bigot; I just said he sees himself as defending “the existing government”, not trying to destroy it. This is fueled by his warped notion of what exactly the Founders had in mind.
@DrDaveT: And you think democratic government will be the result of people like Moore gaining power?
OK, we’ve wandered off the pier here. I’ve gone back and looked at all of my comments in this thread, and I can’t find one that this could plausibly be a response to. Where have I claimed anything of the sort?
@DrDaveT: You disagreed with my original thesis, which was:
Your response then turns from an objective analysis (what the end result of people like Moore gaining power would look like), to a subjective analysis (“I just said he sees himself as defending “the existing government” (emphasis in original)).
But that isn’t part of our argument for a couple reasons. First it entirely depends on one’s perspective. From a progressive’s view point, of course what Moore is advocating for is *less democratic.*
And to the degree on believes he’s “destroying” things is fundamentally tied to normative beliefs about how the world should be.
@DrDaveT and I are *not* making a normative argument here. The following is why:
Moore and those like him could argue that his proposed changes are actually democratic as these policies are being enacted by democratically elected officials doing the will of their constituencies.
Again, this is what differentiates them from the Taliban. In the case of the Taliban, they have anointed themselves the sole arbiters and their power derives from their ability to force/maintain a status quo through violence.
Moore is still advocating using democratic mechanisms to bring about his changes. Hence why the better comparison is to Erdogan. Whether or not the results are less freedoms has no bearing on the mechanisms being used to bring about those changes.
For all of his issues that may seem repugnant to Liberals, it’s clear that Mr Moore still believes in the democratic rule of law. Hence his focus on changing/redefining the law.
@DrDaveT: A heck of a lot of revolutions manage to get off the ground by claiming they are “restorations”, going back to a previously existing Golden Age. Some use this argument more explicitly than others.
I give you the Renaissance, Protestantism, the Meiji Restoration, etc., etc., and so forth…. and I bet if I were to rummage around in the writings extant at the time of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution I’m sure I could scrounge up something similar about an Age of Equality way back.
@grumpy realist: For you and @Timothy Watson, I think both of you need to step back and look at the argument so far here. Both @Matt Bernius and I have nothing but contempt for Moore — but we’re not going to let that stampede us into accusing him of eating babies, poisoning Halloween candy, or being anti-democratic.
Yes, the Bad Guys often cloak their nefarious schemes in the trappings of democracy. Yes, the end result of Moore getting his way would be less freedom and more oppression. We get all of that. But it is simply false to ascribe anti-democratic motives to Moore. That’s not what he’s about. He thinks he’s pursuing the will of a silent Christian majority, in accordance with the preferences of Christian Founders and Framers. He is wrong about this; but it’s still what he believes. That is not an excuse nor an exculpation, but it’s a fact you need to understand if you’re going to deal with him and people like him.
I guess it depends on what you mean by destroy.
Wanting to subvert the constitution into a pseudo theocratic document only really destroys part of it, so destroy is hyperbole. That he may falsely think he is restoring it to its proper historical framework doesn’t matter.
Wanting to re-form the Confederacy might not technically count as wanting to destroy the government. Our government would remain in place. It would just be a few states short. To be fair, Moore has denied sharing his friend’s views on this, but not enough to return the $50K that was 2/3s of his war chest when he ran for the Supreme Court.
It matters if you’re making a claim about what he wants, as opposed to a claim about what the likely consequences would be if he gets his way. Why is this so hard to understand?
I understand where you are coming from, but think you are making a distinction without a difference. To give an extreme example: If I am delusional enough to think that the founders meant for me personally to be the only person with rights and all others in this country to be my minions and I want to restore the Constitution to that state of purity, what I want is in effect to destroy the Constitution. That I think in my delusion that I am restoring the vision of the founders rather than subverting or destroying it doesn’t much matter.
And yet, the jury in the Pistorius case seems to think it makes a huge difference whether Oscar wanted to shoot his wife, or wanted to shoot an intruder (but, being deceived, was actually shooting his wife). It is a distinction with a very large difference.
More practically, if you want to attempt to modify Moore’s behavior, which approaches might actually succeed will be determined by what Moore thinks he is trying to do, not by what you (or objective reality) think he is actually accomplishing.
Do you really think that at this point anyone is going to modify Moore’s behavior to any meaningful degree other than through establishing consequences for his actions?
He has been confronted with truth many times over as he went through law school and fought his way to the US Supreme Court and has at every turn rejected it, his religious vision of what IS is not going to change regardless of how I or anyone else approaches him.
I take your larger point, that it matters that we understand how others with this view come to it when we are having public debate and are attempting to convince the convincable. In the particular case of Moore we are not dealing with someone who is convincable, so I don’t think it much matters.
The Pistorius analogy would be more apt if he said he thought it was an intruder wearing his wife’s skin and he had to kill the intruder to save her.
I kind of want this to happen in Alabama now, just so I could see Moore’s head explode.