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January 11, 2005

a Christian nation? the case of the remarkable Mr. Bartlett

Don Herzog, Herzog: "A Christian Nation?", The Bartlett Files: January 11, 2005

Valiantly continuing my quixotic quest to figure out what's at stake in talk of ours being a Christian nation, I stumbled on the House debate on the constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, 9/30/'04.  Here's a morsel:

Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland.  Mr. Speaker, there seems to be some confusion as to what constitutes marriage.  In the Christian community, and we are a Christian Nation, you can affirm that by going back to our Founding Fathers and their belief in how we started, among Christians, marriage is generally recognized as having started in the Garden of Eden.  You may go back to Genesis to find that and you will note there that God created Adam and Eve.  He did not create Adam and Steve.  A union between other than a man and a woman may be something legally, but it just cannot be a marriage, because marriage through 5,000 years of recorded history has always been a relationship between a man and a woman.

Roscoe G. Bartlett styles himself a "citizen-legislator," but he's now in his sixth term in the House of Representatives, and some might think he's just another professional pol.  (If you have access to Nexis, you can read a 10/10/'04 profile of the representative and his district in the Washington Post.)  Regardless, he is forthright in his declarations that this is a Christian nation -- and his belief that you can justify controversial public policies on that basis.  (He was one of the congressmen embarrassed to learn that he had participated in a ceremony in which the Rev. Sun Myung Moon crowned himself the Messiah, but I don't doubt his claim that he'd no idea that that was going on.)  From a House debate on whether to prohibit faith-based institutions receiving funds from community service block grants from discriminating on religious grounds in employment, 9/5/'03:

Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland.  Mr. Chairman ... our Founding Fathers would be amazed that we were even discussing this.  This Congress, for the first 100 years of our existence, voted money every year to send missionaries to the American Indians.  The Continental Congress bought 20,000 volumes of the Bible, copies of the Bible to distribute to their new citizens.  For the first 200 years the New England Primer taught the alphabet to our students by using Bible text.  In the McGuffrey Reader, the author of that says that he borrowed more from scripture than any other source, and he made no apologies for that.  Our Founding Fathers were devoutly Christian.  They would be amazed that we are even discussing this.  President Adams said that this Constitution was prepared for a Christian Nation which served the purposes of no other.  Mr. Chairman, they would be amazed that we are even discussing this today.

Addressing the House in 1/7/'03 to denounce the efforts of Michael Newdow to have the words "under God" removed from the pledge of allegiance, Rep. Bartlett strung together another parade of great American public figures saluting God and Christianity.  I won't vouch for every one of his historical examples; in fact one of them is clearly wrong.  Bartlett revealed to his colleagues,

In 1811, there was a case the People v. Ruggles.  This was a person who had publicly slandered the Bible.  This case got to the Supreme Court and this is what they said:  "You have attacked the Bible. In attacking the Bible, you have attacked Jesus Christ. In attacking Jesus Christ, you have attacked the roots of our Nation.  Whatever strikes at the root of Christianity manifests itself in the dissolving of our civil government."

Well, no, though the same story surfaces on the internet and I suppose elsewhere.  The 1811 case of The People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, is from the Supreme Court -- of New York.  It affirms a conviction and 3-month prison term for Ruggles's uttering an entirely nasty bit of blasphemy typical of contemporary freethinkers.  It does not say anything like what Bartlett reports.

But it does say this:  "The free, equal, and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious subject, is granted and secured; but to revile, with malicious and blasphemous contempt, the religion professed by almost the whole community, is an abuse of that right.  Nor are we bound, by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the Grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those imposters.  Besides, the offense is crimen malitiae, and the imputation of malice could not be inferred from any invectives upon superstitions equally false and unknown."

"Almost the whole community"?  There's the rub.  It's not clear why the numbers should be decisive here.  Even a scant handful of Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, &c. &c. are entitled to be equal citizens, not second-class citizens tolerated by the first-class members of the community.  Courts and other government bodies should not be decreeing that other religions are false superstitions:  that grotesquely exceeds their competence.  Then too, the numbers today aren't what they were in 1811.  Sensing this, I think, Rep. Bartlett made a curious and crucial concession:

By the way, I would like to note that it might be appropriate in today's environment to use the words Judeo-Christian.  Those words were apparently not used by our Founding Fathers, but I am sure recognizing the origin of all of these beliefs from the Bible, which is clearly Judeo-Christian, that Judeo-Christian might be a better way.  But I am reading the actual words of our Founding Fathers.  Please read Judeo-Christian when they say Christian.

The historian in me wants to point out that the founders might well have balked at Bartlett's easy and now familiar hyphenation.  (Here's Jefferson in the Notes on Virginia:  "Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue."  Meaning, in part, that the Jews aren't the chosen people.)  History aside, expanding from "a Christian nation" to "a Judaeo-Christian nation" isn't good enough.  It excludes Muslims.  It excludes atheists and agnostics.  It excludes Buddhists, Hindus, and on and on.

A nation as religiously diverse as ours (quite happily!) is can't afford to define its identity in religious ways.  Domestically, because it threatens to inflame religious conflict, and you don't need to study the civil wars of early modern Europe to realize how threatening that is.  And internationally, because our cause is ill served by identifying ourselves as a (Judaeo-)Christian nation.  That's why it was an awful slip when President Bush referred to the war on terrorism as a "crusade."  That's why it was worse than embarrassing to learn about General Boykin's statements that our enemy is Satan, fighting us because we are, you guessed it, a "Christian nation," and that our God is "real" but Allah is "an idol."  You can be sure that all that inflammatory language still circulates on the Arab street.  You can be sure that the retractions and apologies don't.

So consider another bit of founding fathers' wisdom.  The Tripoli treaty of 1796, a response to piracy committed by Muslims of the Barbary coast, included this assurance:  "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 article was spectacularly botched in the Arabic version and modified in the renegotiated treaty of 1805.  But it was still a first-rate idea.)

Representative Bartlett means well.  But he's playing with dynamite.


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Posted by: Paul Deignan

Aside from pointing to whatever a lone representative might say as to his understanding of history, there is a case to be made that without the fabric of religion our liberal democracy might slide towards totalitarianism. The philosophical question is this, "What makes us equal and superior to government itself, i.e. a nation of the People?"

There must be some intrinsic property of a person that makes him/her a source of sovereignty. In the Age of Reason, we agreed that it was reason, specifically reason based on free will. This is why we vote and debate. Free will allows him/her to be held to account in a free society; reason guides the realization of this responsibility. The aggregate of these interests are decided on the basis of equality which in turn is implanted in the bedrock of free will -- a property that implies an immeasurable extradimensionality of the sovereign individual free from the devices of others.

Free will implies an extradimension aspect of the person's character. The secularist understands this as "spirituality". The religionist has more defined notions. We have agreed to respect them both as aspects of the sovereignty of the individual through which the sovereignty of the nation is based. That is fundamental to out Constitution.

So Mr. Bartlett may say as he pleases on the subject and we are not offended or threatened. We understand that he is expressing his commitment in his own terms to this extradimensional property and its necessity as a basis of liberalism. Historian may agrue minutia over Bartlett’s understanding of the past. We encourage free speech on matters of potential disagreement, especially in the House. We may argue against any implications of exclusivity by pointing to the same argument I have made regarding the necessity of a commitment to the proposition of extradimensionality -- we are all equal by this immeasurable property. How can it be “owned” by one to the exclusion of another?

On the other hand, fascism relies on subordination and denial of free will. Let's be aware of this trap and avoid it.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 8:14:19 AM

Posted by: Steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve)

Since this blog is run by academics, you might want to refer to "Dr. Bartlett," since he has a PhD in physiology(http://www.bartlett.house.gov/biography.asp).
I live in a neighboring district; my congressman is Elijah Cummings, the outgoing chair of the Black Caucus. I tried and failed to find on-line an article that appeared in the Baltimore Sun in recents years describing visits the two congressmen made to each other's districts. The article would provide a bit more context.

Posted by: Steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) | Jan 11, 2005 8:26:59 AM

Posted by: Shag from Brookline

If indeed America is a Christian (or Judeo-Christian) nation, consider what America (including pre-Revolution) has done to Native Americans, African-American slaves, various ethnic minorities (including Christian and Jewish) over its history. Did Christianity support these actions?

With regard to the 1813 NY decision in Peoples v. Ruggles, it must be kept in mind that the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses on religion limited the federal government and not the states until incorporated by the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment in the 1860s. So perhaps it could be said from the federalist point of view that each state could consider itself a Christian state, but that the federal government could not. My state of Massachusetts was one of the last (1837?) states to surrender its established (Christian, of course) religion.

I recommend "Hellfire Nation" published last year, written by a political science professor from Brown University (I forget his name but not his book) that shows the cycling impact of religion and morality in America going back to the Pilgrims and Puritans. Right now America is on an upswing (which I consider negative) in the cycle, but that too shall come to pass.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jan 11, 2005 8:36:20 AM

Posted by: oliver

"The People v. Ruggles" has has too silly a ring to stand as precedent in regard to so solemn an issue. It sounds like a trademark dispute or something from JJ Rowling. Rather than dynamite, I regard Bartlett as playing with an exploding cigar.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 8:49:02 AM

Posted by: noah

What does Mr. Herzog think about reports that Canada is flirting with allowing the Muslim community to govern itself? But of course thats Canada whose approval of homosexual marriage provided guidance to the Massachusetts Supreme court.

Posted by: noah | Jan 11, 2005 9:06:07 AM

Posted by: noah

No comment thread was established for the Port Huron Statement. So I'll cheat.

It is plainly a call for Democratic Socialism...no new paths there.

Posted by: noah | Jan 11, 2005 9:15:48 AM

Posted by: Don Herzog

noah, I've heard nothing about this outlandish Canadian idea. But it wouldn't be the opposite of thinking of Canada as a Christian nation. It would be a straightforward result: the demand for self-government on religious lines will arise if the majority community decides to define its government as a religious one. Then minority sects will see the state as foreign, even hostile, and seek refuge.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 11, 2005 9:30:38 AM

Posted by: Aaron S.

Noah- How is that any different from Canada's flirting with allowing the Quebeqois community to govern itself?

Posted by: Aaron S. | Jan 11, 2005 9:39:22 AM

Posted by: Steve

I have no particular opinion of Rep Bartlett-but your post does carry with it some rather strange assumptions.

"Regardless, he is forthright in his declarations that this is a Christian nation -- and his belief that you can justify controversial public policies on that basis."
This quote follows a discussion of gay marriage-apparently, you believe that traditional marriage is a 'controversial public policy." This is bizarre-outside of the Massachussetts Supreme Court, traditional marriage is in no way controversial-it has been supported (and gay marriage rejected) by strong majorities everywhere it was open to vote (11 states, I believe). It would be more appropriate (though less effective for your cause) to describe the expansion of marriage to include gays as 'controversial.'

'"Almost the whole community"? There's the rub. It's not clear why the numbers should be decisive here. Even a scant handful of Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, &c. &c. are entitled to be equal citizens, not second-class citizens tolerated by the first-class members of the community. Courts and other government bodies should not be decreeing that other religions are false superstitions: that grotesquely exceeds their competence.'

I don't understand your perspective. You seem to question the accuracy of 'almost the whole community?' by putting it in quotes and following with a question mark, and then in the very next sentence acknowledging that it is accurate ("It's not clear why the numbers should be decisive here. Even a SCANT handful of Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, &c. &c."). Huh? And furthermore, "Courts and other government bodies should not be decreeing that other religions are false superstitions:". Where did this come from? Are you arguing that having "under God" in the pledge of allegiance is tantamount to a court and other government body decreeing that other religions are false superstitions? Once again, bizarre.

"A nation as religiously diverse as ours (quite happily!) is can't afford to define its identity in religious ways."
THIS is the rub. Is our nation really religously diverse? I thought anywhere from 80-95% of Americans consider themselves Judeo-Christian. The only societies less diverse than ours are probably Middle Eastern societies, and that is partly due to the fact that those societies drive out or kill non-believers. As a comparison, Bosnia is roughly 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Catholic, and 1/3 Protestant (or, if our prefer, 1/3 Muslim and 2/3 Judeo-Christian). THAT is a religiously diverse nation. A nation that is 80-90% one religion (whether Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Muslim) is far from 'diverse.' One could argue that a society should protect minorities, regardless of their numbers (in this case, religious minorities), but that is a different argument than saying that a society is so diverse that there is no real representative majority.


Posted by: Steve | Jan 11, 2005 9:39:56 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Now that we’re more familiar with Bartlett’s quotations, the question occurs whether he is simply playing to his constituency or part of what some believe to be a third Great Awakening in American evangelical Christianity. The fact that Bartlett is a practicing Seventh Day Adventist could be argued as evidence either way.

If the latter, however, perhaps secularists and non-Christians of all sorts have reason for concern. Indeed, even Christians of my sort should take notice. (Episcopalians, of whom it was said during the first Great Awakening that we had been inoculated with just enough religion to make us immune from the more virulent strain that spread throughout much of the nation.)

As I have written previously, one of the more distressing aspects of this phenomenon is that a thriving subculture of evangelical Christianity is almost as alien to, shall we say, the intelligentsia as radical (and even mainstream) Islam is to the majority of Americans. Ironically, these two groups understand each other reasonably well, at least insofar as they understand what it is to see themselves and the world through a point of view that is entirely suffused with religious belief and doctrine. If it is true that radical Islam fails to grasp the extent to which America is a fundamentally post-Judeo-Christian society (ignoring polls and statistics that ‘show’ that the majority in the U.S. are in some tepid sense still ‘religious’), it may also be true that they understand better than Mr. Herzog or I the extent to which a cultural war is indeed being waged.

Neither of these resurgent and global religious movements have much regard for pluralism, per se, let alone the niceties of Constitutional points of law. I don’t know what it all means or where it’s likely to lead us, but I strongly suggest that these issues transcend Left / Right divisions as we have understood them in the U.S. for many decades.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 11, 2005 9:45:33 AM

Posted by: tom perkins

"Now that we’re more familiar with Bartlett’s quotations"

Please tell me you felt some shame when writing this. That your tongue was in your cheek.


It's just that some puns hit harder than others.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: tom perkins | Jan 11, 2005 9:48:48 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan

... I've heard nothing about this outlandish Canadian idea. But it wouldn't be the opposite of thinking of Canada as a Christian nation. It would be a straightforward result: the demand for self-government on religious lines will arise if the majority community decides to define its government as a religious one. Then minority sects will see the state as foreign, even hostile, and seek refuge.

The problem is that this slide has occurred in a country that is far more secular than the US. So apparently, the Muslims of Canada view the secular Canadian government with more distain than the Muslim in the US view their government. The inference is that there is a greater commonality among the religious than differences.

We see the same thing in the PRC where religion is suppressed. Note also that the great "religious" wars of the 15-1600s were nation-state wars among undemocratic elites. The "religious" wars in Kosovo/Bosnia fell out along ethnic lines (not religious as we saw in Sarajevo).

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 9:58:35 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely


Some people like puns, some don’t. Or as an Iranian friend of mine likes to say, “One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.”

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 11, 2005 10:16:44 AM

Posted by: oliver

There's no need to suppose extraordinary disdain among Canadan muslims toward their government. They may just rightly regard their societal mainstream as more tolerant than that of the US and feel a sense of entitlement and/or eligibility to do as they please, such as leads US factions or special interests to plead for dispensations from their government. My impression is Canada's philosophy of multiculturalism is a work in progress or at least still simmering and Canadian muslims shouldn't be regarded as confused or wrong about it any more than lots of other groups.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:22:36 AM

Posted by: oliver

I will say though that Canadian muslims do talk funny compared to American muslims.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:27:10 AM

Posted by: Steve

Embarrassing correction. Bosnia is roughly split into three religions: 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Catholic, and 1/3 Orthodox Christian (not Protestant, as I said earlier). And Paul: I'm not sure if I understood your comments about Bosnia/Kosovo/Sarajevo. The conflicts there were both ethnic and religious, because the two groups overlap almost perfectly (in Bosnia, Catholics are Croatians, Orthodox are Serbs, though Muslims tend to be Croats and Serbs who's families converted several hundred years ago. In Kosovo, it is conflict between Serbian Orthodox and I believe Albanian Muslims). Furthermore, Sarajevo is in Bosnia-perhaps I misunderstood you, but it appeared that you were distinguishing between Kosovo/Bosnia and Sarajevo.


Posted by: Steve | Jan 11, 2005 10:29:38 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan


The comparison was relative, not absolute.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 10:32:37 AM

Posted by: oliver

Don Herzog writes: "this outlandish Canadian idea"

At the risk of drifting off topic: What makes Prof Herzog such a flaming assimilationist and does he view the meager sovereignties that the US still allows Native Americans as similarly outlandish? And the French scarf ban?

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:33:14 AM

Posted by: oliver

Paul, mine was a challenge to a claim of a relative difference.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:35:11 AM

Posted by: oliver

Actually, all differences are relative. I don't know what either of us was talking about.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:36:35 AM

Posted by: Jacob T. Levy

The allegedly outlandish Canadian idea (specifically Ontario, as I recall) isn't about Muslim territorial self-government. It's about the recognition of arbitration according to Muslim law in intracommunal disputes-- a variant of standard Canadian choice of law and arbitration rules. It will apparently allow Muslim personal law to govern some family law disputes, a la India and Israel. There are big issues of principle in small details that (as far as I know) haven't yet been worked out-- what will count as evidence of opting into the system, for example. But the basic principle is neither outlandish nor even particularly novel. It's multiculturalism as exercise of liberal choice, in this case choice of law and venue.

Posted by: Jacob T. Levy | Jan 11, 2005 10:37:35 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely


I’m more interested in why Canadian Muslims talk funny. Do they say “Death to America, eh?”

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 11, 2005 10:40:10 AM

Posted by: oliver

For that matter "outlandish" is sort of apt, so long as we can agree that some outlandishnesses can be progressive and good. But I'm inclined to interpret Prof Herzog as having chosen that word to denigrate.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:41:37 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan


I was hoping that someone would ask. The conflicts started over boundaries and sovereignty along ethnic lines. As you note the different religions were intermixed. After the initiation of hostilities, divisions were extended to religious lines. This is a common demagogic practice. Sarajevo was a good example – think of the documentary Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo .

I wanted to highlight the phenomena in recent memory. You see, these people were living together and did not just wake up one day and say to themselves, “Damn, that other guy’s religion is intolerable -- I'd better do something about it now”.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 10:41:47 AM

Posted by: oliver

It's more like when you prick them, they bleed but do not say "Ouch" in quite the same way.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 10:42:57 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan


Multiculturalism is about culture. Multinationalism is about laws.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 10:44:28 AM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Oh, I really thought noah meant "allowing the Muslim community to govern itself," as he wrote. As I said, I know nothing about it. If anyone wants to provide a link, I'm happy to learn.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 11, 2005 10:45:20 AM

Posted by: J Trainor

Don H,Shag, Aaron S,& DAR A] Can't help wondering when all this concern for our Muslim brothers gained momentum. Couldn't have anything to do with 9/11 could it? Think and then respond.Shag, the 14th amend. had nothing to do with the establihment clause. Nothing. You must be thinking of the 1947 Everson case. Is it heretical to suggest that judges are not the law. Bromides about the law being what the judges say it is are not allowed. Aaron S, perhaps Canadians feel that Quebeqois wii leave the rest of Canada alone whereas Muslims have contempt for western and Canadian culture. D A Ridgely, first let me say that I have a strong respect for all your postings,you may be the best. However re. Great Awakening are you sure you have your Jonathan Edwards right? In general I do think think that the Judao-Christian imprint on our country is unmistakeable. Even Ted Kennedy put down his bottle of booze and pulled up his pants long enough to cite,on the Senate floor,the Sermon on the Mount. No doubt in favor of a program designed to ease his conscience and rape the taxpayer

Posted by: J Trainor | Jan 11, 2005 10:46:54 AM

Posted by: CDC

A mythology about 'Jesusland' has been developed. Mr. Bartlett made some silly statements as has the Senator Elect from Oklahoma. Their more eccentric views have, in some places, been presented as typical of Mr. Bush's supporters. This is either a cynical rhetorical device or a serious misapprehension. Those views are not typical.

Mr. Bartlett has some kooky ideas. We all do. Mr. Bartlett is excercising his God given right to have his sillier ideas rejected. If some minority of your opponents espouse nonsense it does not imply that your political opposition actually intends to base policy on similar nonsense.

As a child I sat through five hours per week of fundamentalist preaching. In addition to making me devoutly agnostic, it taught me that Christians' days of burning heretics at the stake are long gone.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 11, 2005 11:19:49 AM

Posted by: Jacob T. Levy

To forestall silliness on the Ontario arbitration provisions, here's the link to the report and recommendations:

Posted by: Jacob T. Levy | Jan 11, 2005 11:32:34 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan


You used the word "extraordinary". Compared to what is ordinary in the US? I can't suppose that Muslim attitudes localized to the US are normative by assumption.

In any case, if Canadian Muslims were well satisfied with their government they would not seek separate laws for themselves apart from Canadian law applicable to all. Apparently they are unable to satisfy their desires under uniform Canadian law in that democracy. Having visited Toronto, I can understand their concern.

At this time we have not heard of similar multinational movements in the US. As in the Canada, Muslims are free in the US to petition for whatever they like. They could petition their local governments for the same sort of arrangement as they are seeking in Canada.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 11:36:19 AM

Posted by: Paul Deignan

... Religious arbitration can allow the people in dispute to select a shared set of values and rules that may be different than Ontario law. Use of the Arbitration Act by minority communities is a way of engaging with the broader community by formalizing a method of decision-making which currently occurs in an informal manner.

Of course, the mantle of the Arbitration Act is not necessary unless there is something to be bound. People can always make agreements without legal constrictions. So what is the purpose and effect of this law if not to formalize a separate religious arbitration outside of Ontario law.

Arbitration is different than making an informal verbal agreement. This is a law.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 11:46:58 AM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Thanks, Jacob. (Who, you all should know, has done really interesting work on closely connected questions.)

But surely the question of permitting Canadian Muslims to use their own religious law in some arbitration settings does not stand and fall with the question of whether we should affirm or deny that ours is a Christian nation.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 11, 2005 11:47:16 AM

Posted by: oliver

But Paul, muslims who consider so petitioning here might reasonably expect that to be a waste of their time, not to mention an invitation for persecution. I don't see how you can conclude what you seem to do from the mere absence of certain noises from their quarters.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 12:00:27 PM

Posted by: oliver

Incidentally I'm only ignoring your point about "extraordinary" because I don't understand what it is.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 12:01:59 PM

Posted by: Steve

I think you misunderstood my comment. I was saying that there is no difference between an ethnic and a religious identity in Bosnia-so it is incorrect to suggest that the conflict with 'ethic' without being 'religious.' In fact, it would be more accurate to say that it was religious before it was ethnic (the main conflict was between Serbs and Muslims, and Muslims are ethnically identical to Serbs and Croats, as I said in my first post). Since the religion of peoples before the war was fairly weak (Muslims in Bosnia are largely secular Muslims, as are the Orthodox and Catholics-essentially similar to religious identities throughout the West), it would probably be more accurate to say the conflict was 'cultural', between Muslim, Cosmopolitan city dwellers and Orthodox, insular rural dwellers. But suggesting that the conflict was not 'religious' is incorrect-maybe it wasn't predominantly religious, but the fault lines between the groups were the cultural, ethnic, and religious, and they essentially mapped precisely on top of one another (thus, a conflict between a Serb and a Muslim is also a conflict between an Orthodox and a Muslim, in almost all cases).


Posted by: Steve | Jan 11, 2005 12:07:20 PM

Posted by: oliver

"But surely the question of permitting Canadian Muslims to use their own religious law in some arbitration settings does not stand and fall with the question of whether we should affirm or deny that ours is a Christian nation."

But is the one really irrelevant to the other? As you said yourself, we don't know what such an affirmation or denial in the U.S. would mean or involve. Maybe some Christian-nationists would be happy with an enactment of similar arbitration provisions here, so long as their religion was the only one so provided for. Maybe in pleading for Christian nationhood they would like to make whatever argument muslim advocates made in Canada and which must be close to meeting muster against their (I suppose) not-so-alien-to-us Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 12:14:18 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Trainor:

Thanks for the kind words. I was speaking in generalities, but it is standard U.S. religious history textbook stuff to speak of a first and second Great Awakening. My knowledge of Edwards doesn’t extend much beyond an image of a spider over the fire and sinners in the hands of an angry God, but I don’t think there is any serious doubt that these religious revival movements had profound and lasting effects on American society. Whether we are on the verge of a third such movement is, to me, an open question.

I certainly agree that Judeo-Christianity has left it’s imprint on the U.S. I only question whether such statistical measures as church attendance have any clear or strong relationship to the actual religious beliefs or the extent to which those beliefs are firmly held by the majority of Americans today. Candidly, I think for many who are counted in those sorts of statistics, their religious affiliations and identifications are about as strong as, say, our identifications with our alma maters or favorite sports teams, and I further think that this is a reality about which the secular left has little real appreciation. On the other hand, I think there is a strong and largely overlooked evangelical revival occurring about which the secular left is even more clueless. Thus I’m inclined to believe they are right to be worried but they’re worried about the wrong folks.

Of course, politicians like Kennedy spout scripture when it serves their purposes. My view of politicians is clear: they’re all weasels, even though I prefer my weasels to the other side’s weasels. So, sure, Bartlett could be just another bloviating gasbag. That would certainly be the safe bet. But he could also be symptomatic of that revival. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 11, 2005 12:25:57 PM

Posted by: Dom Eggert

If I might try to debunk the myth that the founding fathers were devoutly Christian, here are some select quotations from them, to add to some of Prof. Herzog's. These aren't the only ones to be found, but I think it calls into serious question some of Mr. Bartlett's assertions. (I'm sorry I don't have the sources ready, but these are not hard to find.)

John Adams: "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

Thomas Jefferson: "Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies."

James Madison: "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."

Benjamin Franklin: "In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it."

Also, some other relevant factual information (from the 2000 US Census) to put an end to some of this speculation: 76.5% of Americans identify as Christian, 13.2% as non-religious or secular, 1.3% as Jewish, 0.5% each of Islamic, Buddhist, and Agnostic, 0.4% as Atheist, and then there's a smattering of many others.

Studies by the Pew Research Council indicate similar figures for the other groups, but about 82% Christian. Of American Christians, roughly half are some kind of Protestant, about a quarter Catholic, and then various others. More fun statistics like this can be found through adherents.com.

Granted that's a lot of Christians, but considering the diversity among sects, it would be hard to speak on behalf of almost the whole community on any religious matter.

Posted by: Dom Eggert | Jan 11, 2005 12:28:43 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

D.A. Ridgely's comment might suggest that people who are lukewarm in their religious attachments aren't inclined to politicize them, but staunchly devout people will insist that their religion serve as the basis of public policy and the identity of the state. I don't think he means that, but anyway it's false. Someone who's only casually a Christian could be vehement that the state forbid gay marriage, for instance, on religious grounds. And many devout people want nothing to do with the state and are (properly) worried about Caesarism.

Me, I'm worried about people who want the state to take on a religious identity. I've got nothing whatever against the devout.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jan 11, 2005 12:30:25 PM

Posted by: Jacpb T. Levy

"But surely the question of permitting Canadian Muslims to use their own religious law in some arbitration settings does not stand and fall with the question of whether we should affirm or deny that ours is a Christian nation."

No, not at all! Indeed, even on rereading the comments I'm unclear as to what the conenction was ever supposed to be-- and I didn't mean to criticize you in particular for 'outlandish,' since you'd been given a misleading account of what was going on.

Posted by: Jacpb T. Levy | Jan 11, 2005 12:32:54 PM

Posted by: Paul Deignan

But Paul, muslims who consider so petitioning here might reasonably expect that to be a waste of their time, not to mention an invitation for persecution. I don't see how you can conclude what you seem to do from the mere absence of certain noises from their quarters.

A press release? March? Sign? Anything?

I'm only looking at measurable indicators. The point was a clarification to an argument that was backwards by the facts it presented. I'm only concerned at this point with the justification of logical inferences. It is always possible that when we look at what appears contradictory that there is some unstated assumption. We need to draw these out to understand the arguments being made.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 12:38:55 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Indeed I did not mean to suggest either of the things Mr. Herzog correctly notes are false. I only want to urge people who hear, for example, that 82% of the American population is or claims to be in some sense or the other Christian need to view such statistics critically.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 11, 2005 12:44:27 PM

Posted by: M.

It pains me to read some of the uninformed comments about my country and its Muslim population. Of course, many Americans think we live in igloos and ski to work in July...

Canadians have no problem with minority cultures institutionalizing their own systems of legality and penality, but these are to be trumped by our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For instance, Shi'a (sp?) law will never be fully enacted anywhere in this country because women are not entitled to fair treatment by Shi'a courts. Many, if not most, controversial Islamic tenets would never be tolerated, even within a self-governed community; we allow all people to identify with whatever faith and culture they like, but only insofar as such beliefs do not trod upon the functionings and capabilities (to borrow from Sen) of other citizens. For instance, there will never be another execution in Canada, whether by federal or Islamic courts. The problem of illiberal minorities within a liberal society has been painstakingly pondered by Will Kymlicka, one of my instructors. Certainly worth reading, if you're interested in multiculturalism as opposed to assimilation. Might be more attractive for the U.S. nowadays (Lou Dobbs et al excepted), what with your burgeoning Hispanic population.

Fun fact: Canada allowed FOX "News" to be broadcast on our airwaves only after first giving the thumbs up to Al Jazeera, and being pressured to give the same leeway to the American conservative cable network. Albertans were incensed, but what else should we expect from far-right North Texans? :)

Posted by: M. | Jan 11, 2005 12:48:48 PM

Posted by: oliver

I retract my devil's argument against irrelevancy of the Canadian muslim example--not just to avoid "piling on" Prof. H but since I don't really buy my own argument. My sense of Christian-nation advocacy is that it's fundamentally about exclusivity (such an affirmation in effect says "We're not secular," "We're not Hindu," "We're not..." ... ) which strikes me as the opposite of multiculturalism and so very different from the seeking of provisions such as it sounds like Canadian muslims have campaigned for.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 12:49:52 PM

Posted by: Lancelot Finn

There's an economic dimension to the "Christian nation" argument, too. Leftists (including some Christians, particularly Catholics) sometimes read of Jesus's concern for the poor, and condemnation of the rich, and get the idea that Christ would have advocated some sort of socialism. The mistake here is a simple one: they fail to distinguish between voluntary and extorted charity. Christianity supports the former, not the latter. For millions of Christian Americans, it is a truism that we are exhorted to devote our resources privately to helping the poor, but for the government to tax us and support the poor is an attempt to build the Tower of Babel, heaven on earth. Then as now, it is punished with mass alienation. I go into more detail on the economic model of a Christian society on my website: http://www.lancelotfinn.com/work_service_worship_1

Posted by: Lancelot Finn | Jan 11, 2005 12:50:16 PM

Posted by: bakho

Something Mr. Bartlett fails to appreciate is that teaching public school children from the KJV Bible in the 1800s was controversial. Catholic immigrants (especially Irish) objective strenuously to using a Bible the Catholic Church deemed "heretical" in public education. Protestants refused to back down, preferring to force their own orthodoxy on the Catholic immigrants. Numerous Protestant political parties that were in the main "anti-Catholic" sprung up in the US. In response, Catholic immigrants funded their own parochial schools and that is one of the primary reasons that we have an extensive Catholic School system in the US today. Catholics objected to being subjected to a Protestant Bible they considered heretical.

Posted by: bakho | Jan 11, 2005 12:50:37 PM

Posted by: Paul Deignan


The question is over causality. What came first, the ethnic/territorial/sovereign/border concerns or the religious differences in sparking the conflict?

If the matter were religious, then I would expect the conflict to materialize as a widespread civil war without boundaries (until the parties coalesced into geographically definable groups). Instead, the conflicts began as territorial struggles. Here I understand the word "ethnic" to include the initial geographic divisions in the same loose way as it was used by the BBC in describing the conflict. Serbs v. Croats. Note that the Bosnian war began as a nationalistic struggle.

We are looking at the role of religion. Did religion per se start the war or were religious differences a catalyst in inflaming a preexisting ethnic/nationalist struggle. If it was religious, why not seek to convert the "infidels" rather than to kill them outright by genocide?

Did the doctrines of these religions call for the action that occurred? Was the struggle initiated by religious leaders for religious purposes?

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 12:52:44 PM

Posted by: oliver

"against RELEVANCY" I meant. I do not not regret the error.

Posted by: oliver | Jan 11, 2005 12:55:37 PM

Posted by: Paul Deignan

Here is a link for the timeline of the conflict


upon which my remarks rely.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Jan 11, 2005 12:59:00 PM

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