January 14, 2009

Clutch said ...

The following, in reply to this, which is said to be a critique of this:
There is quite simply no reason on offer to think that moral education requires religious reference.

The allegation that such shared moral vision as exists in the USA is actually a consequence of some Abrahamic religious convictions is irrelevant to the issue at hand. If this is historically accurate, to be sure, then nothing obviously precludes teaching that historical datum in history class; its likely controversial status has everything to do with its dubious truth-value (and, in practice, the motives for introducing it; [Prof. Esenberg] will know more about the Lemon Test than I) rather than any prima facie tension with disestablishment principles.

What's relevant to the question at hand, though, is whether inculcating religion is key to teaching kids how to be moral, by common standards. On this score, McIlheran's truly tinpot ramblings about not mentioning God and talking about God are carefully ambiguous between a fairly benign complete non-sequitur and a proposal at once substantive, groundless, and highly extremist.

The benign but goofy idea is that schools should merely "mention" or "talk about" god(s) without trying to inculcate belief in them, with the extraordinarily strange hope that this will somehow engender moral conduct. In its purest form, this would be the idea that one could explicitly encourage atheism from students, yet still engender greater moral behavior just by alluding to deities nevertheless. (Ironically, there's an interpretation of this that many atheists might accept: that talking about religion and its effects is a good way of learning morality — via negativa.)
(TouchĂ© — ed.)
On the other hand, the substantive idea, and the one that most advocates of morals-by-god clearly have in mind, is that teaching people to accept specifically religious precepts is what helps make them moral. (Otherwise, of course, we could just abstract away the god stuff and teach rules like PM's various Commandments as rules for a society — clearly not what all this handwringing is meant to support).

But it sounds so much more reasonable to moan about not being permitted to "mention God," doesn't it, than to come out and say "Public schools should teach people to be religious, in order to make them moral." This rather would seem to be inconsistent with both the Constitution and, um... reality.
eta: Continued ...

Clutch is a frequent and consistently edifying commenter at this here blog and elsewhere.


John Foust said...

Not only is he edifying, but he uses big words and complex sentences, too. But he's not frequent enough.

I say to the Shark, "Skip ahead a bit, brother." He's been hinting about this next magnum opus for quite some time. I can't wait to see it. He'll no doubt cut through a century of nefarious legislating from the bench, showing us the golden vein of strict interpretation that should've been followed, perhaps confirmed by his channeling of the thoughts of the Founders and sympathetic deceased Supremes. God will be be back in the public schools, if not more faith-based government social programs.

His patrons will be pleased with the flattering portrait. "Ah, we always knew we were handsome as well as right, but this talented fellow has proved it beyond a doubt."

So again I say, skip ahead. Tell me how public schools could incorporate religious perspectives. Which religions? Only Judeo-Christian? They're the only two religions that he thinks developed a basis for morality? How much of his argument rotates on the phrase "most of us"? You think a school board committee will come up with suitable guidelines? If my district is dominated by Lutherans, do we get Lutheran interpretation? How will we solve the disputes between various synods? If the committee is five Dad29 clones, will we be teaching Divine Law? Do we work theology into the certification system for teachers? Will UW-Madison's teaching college add clergy to the staff to better inform the next generation of teachers?

Or maybe this is about the teacher's "pocket veto," as few know what really happens when the door closes, and few kids feel empowered enough to complain. Could a teacher decide that the best way to demonstrate morality would be to require the recitation of the Lord's Prayer every morning?

I've had my own recent front-page experience with muscular Christianity injected into public schools under the umbrella of character education. Is this what the Shark would prefer?

Anonymous said...

My mononym caused me to run afoul of the commentary rules at the MU Law blog where Professor Esenberg crossposted his initial exception-taking with IT's note. So the world was denied this:

McIlheran’s whining about not being allowed to “talk about” God is either trivial and false (if it means the scholarly discussion of theology and its relations to morality, which I assume are everywhere fair game for public school courses in philosophy or religion, where these exist) or Talibanesque and scary (if it means that students must be evangelized in order to make them good). The vagueness, outright falsehoods, and sheer insipidness of his post combine to make the label “tinpot” relatively flattering, all things considered. That Esenberg might be able to discuss these issues more intelligently doesn’t make IT “wrong” for observing that McIlheran didn’t.

It is also a very strange inference on Esenberg's part, to take the claim that some religious believers take religion to be “indispensable” to the concepts of values and morality — in spite of having no cogent arguments to this effect — and to conclude merely from their having this belief that “neutrality ought not be the sine qua non of disestablishment and… there ought to be greater room for religious perspectives in government speech”.

Really? It seems rather obvious that we should conclude instead that some religious believers are bound to be disappointed by a liberal polity’s failure to impose their conception of morality on everyone else. It would be odd indeed if the strength of their conviction that irreligion means immorality were more significant than the defensibility of that claim.