January 16, 2009

Dear David Haynes

Thanks for the link. You wrote:
The Tenant takes our own Patrick McIlheran to task, calling him a "tinpot philosopher" for wondering just where God fits into all this.
Please let's not forget that my reaction was inspired by comparing Willie Hines, Jr.'s thoughtful curricular proposal for a "scholarly discussion of ethics" with McIlheran's clear suggestion that morality proceeds from the teachings of Christ (the "Him" of whom he spoke).

That, coupled especially with McIlheran's comically nonsensical gloss on the First Amendment's Establishment of Religion Clause and its application to public schools.

McIlheran wasn't simply "wondering just where God fits into all this." If that was the case, then his tinpot credentials would have remained for the time being confined to his habitually fallacious anecdotal outrage, the impetus for much of his daily scribbling.

But by opining that Mr. Hines was only "on to something," he's saying that Hines hasn't gone far enough.

Now, only a fool would deny that even a scholarly discussion of ethics — i.e., that branch of philosophy — doesn't touch on some questions of divine attachment. See, e.g., Plato's Euthyphro (or, for that matter, the link to the Hume/Kant dialogues provided earlier).

The trouble resides with McIlheran's embedded assumptions. Witness the following observation from fellow traveler Dad29 located at Prof. Esenberg's blog:
Well, it is certainly possible to found social morality on natural law without mentioning that natural law is a subset of Divine law, although it is philosophically impossible to specifically exclude Divine law, if pressed ...
Hello? The objective existence of "Divine law" (and, obviously, its equally Divine Revisor of Statutes) is simply assumed? I think not, or else one of these days, Lord knows somebody needs to prove it.

Never mind the countless human interpretations of this so-called "Divine law," even if one accepts that there is such a thing.

Whose is to take precedence, McIlheran's own personal Judeo-Christian version? Even within that widely disparate set of traditions, there are so many competitive doctrines, all declaiming their respective infallibilities, that any attempt at scholarly discussion under those circumstances is dead in the water from the get-go.

It's a chump's errand to even begin embarking on that path in the context of government schools, regardless of one's view of the correctness of the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence (which is primarily Prof. Esenberg's concern, although he seems to believe that the state's neutrality toward religion itself necessarily impinges on the moral deliberations of the religious).

In any event, casually bland insistences that "Divine law" somehow underpins and controls the arrangement of human society do not for a truly useful discussion of ethics make, and they certainly do not coincide with the culturally egalitarian mission of the public schools.

Yes, we all understand that some people believe this, that, or the other thing, and there's no crime in acknowledging any of it. Nor should they be made into pariahs for so subscribing (or not).

But for better or ill, the state doesn't get to push any particular sectarian belief at the behest of those particular believers.

The point being that there is common (even universal) ground on ethical matters to be discovered without introducing allegedly god(s)-given law (and god[s]-meted punishment) into the equation.

Mr. Hines, for one, gets it. McIlheran, it seems, does not. I applaud, however, the woolly hat, as it better facilitates the electrical conductivity of the neurons, notwithstanding its aesthetic features.

(P.S. It's illusory, not illustory, which looks to be somebody's trade name. Don't get me sued; the last thing I want to do is hire a lawyer.)

Earlier: Clutch said ...


Other Side said...


Display Name said...

Just to put a little local spin on the debate, I present the Edgerton, Wisconsin Bible case.

It was a landmark case before our nation's Supreme Court in 1886 that helped establish our principles of religious freedom. Catholic parents complained that mandatory school readings of the Protestant Bible violated their freedoms. They won.

Says above, "Seventy years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer from the public schools in 1963, the Edgerton Bible case was one of the precedents that Justice William Brennan cited."

Anonymous said...

Indeedy. Again and again one finds that the people moved to argue against any governmental endorsement of religion are themselves religious people sick of someone else's local-majoritarian religious axe-grinding.

It's fair to say that secularism is not a sop to atheists; it's a simple recognition that the term "religious" denotes a melee among mistrusting competitors as much as it denotes a shared vision of the value of faith.

Display Name said...

In my little Wisconsin town, there's a not-uncommon branch of the Lutherans who won't even join in with the town's several other Christian churches in a ecumenical Christmas concert (held in a different variety of Lutheran church).

What could be simpler, you say? Getting a school board, educators and an assembled crowd in agreement on how to explain why God says you shan't have sex before marriage?

Or getting a few Christians together to celebrate their common heritage and beliefs, and to hash out which songs they're willing to sing together?

Maybe Dad29 can join in here and explain what part of Divine Law covers this.

Ordinary Jill said...

It's in Genesis -- "And the sons of WELS shall not marry the daughters of ELCA, nor break bread with them."