More Clarion Calling, Less Bible-Thumping

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Although I am not sure I agree with his conception of freedom of religion, David Limbaugh does succeed in raising a good point in his latest column:

This nightmare began Oct. 7, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho's marriage laws and legalized same-sex marriage in that state, which allowed Idaho county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses a week later. On Oct. 17, the Knapps declined a request to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Knapps, the city of Coeur d'Alene is "unconstitutionally coercing" them to perform these weddings at their Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in violation of their religious beliefs, their ordination vows and their consciences. City Ordinance Section 9.56 bars sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations, which forces the Knapps to choose between betraying their religious convictions and following them and facing up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. According to their complaint, they arguably commit a separate and distinct misdemeanor each day they refuse to perform such ceremonies, with the potential criminal penalties piling up cumulatively. [links removed, bold added]
Limbaugh opens his column by asking, "Where are all the atheist freedom lovers we always hear about?"

To Limbaugh, I say, "Yoo-hoo!"

For the same reason -- the individual right to make contracts with others or not -- I support government recognition of same-sex unions and I oppose the government forcing someone who does not wish to officiate same-sex marriages to do so. Limbaugh is correct that this latest leftist crusade has nothing to do with freedom, although freedom does entitle some people to form unions that others may find abhorrent for whatever reason. The left has such a long history of perverting just causes that I am amazed that anyone accepts its help anymore: Racial equality has practically come to mean government handouts and quotas; reproductive rights somehow became the "right" to purchase abortions with other people's money; and now, same-sex unions have been perverted into micromanagement of marriage chapels (among other things).

Limbaugh blathers on about the scriptural basis for the Knapps' objection to performing these ceremonies (as if nobody knew about this), but the truth is, the government has no business forcing them to perform a ceremony for anyone for any reason whatsoever. But Limbaugh's blathering is worse than superfluous, or pandering to theocrats, or baiting the non-religious: It distracts from the fact that the causes of same-sex unions and what we could call "freedom of conscience" since the issue is bigger than religion are one and the same: the cause of the individual.

First they wouldn't let the gays marry, and I said nothing. Then, they came after the chaplains, and I said nothing. Is the picture getting clearer now? One man's rights do not diminish another's and certainly do not call for the violation of another's. To fail to make this connection does not impugn the stated cause of the advocate, but it does raise suspicions of the advocate and his actual cause. Limbaugh is right to impugn the left, but this "atheist freedom lover" has his own doubts about someone who makes more noise thumping a Bible than advocating individual rights.

-- CAV


10-23-14: Noted missing format edit note in block quote. 


John Shepard said...

This may be redundant. I'm not certain I succeeded in posting my comment, so I'm trying again. Please ignore this second try if the first one succeeded. Thank you.

Hi Gus,

Excellent post. Thank you.

I've yet to read Limbaugh's interview and article you've referenced, though I will after posting this comment, but I thought I'd mention and recommend Onkar Ghate's talk "The Separation of Church and State." If you've not watched, it's excellent, about 65 minutes long (with a 22 minute Q&A session). This one really helped me to understand Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation."

There are two other talks by Dr. Ghate that I'll recommend while I am at it:

"Individual Rights: A Revolutionary Idea" by Onkar Ghate (68 minutes).

In this talk he discusses the principle of individual rights and the founding of America (and the Founders) with respect to the contrasting views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, or, the state of nature as being a state of war (Hobbes: all against all in a state of fear) vs. the state of nature as a state of "industry" (Locke: individual achievement on the basis of reason).

"Religion and Morality" - the talk is about 1 hour, but there's an excellent Q&A session with both Dr. Ghate and Yaron Brook. (See the comments on the talk at the page for the video, but he basically demonstrates why it is that religion cannot give us moral guidance - moral absolutes - but instead turns those seeking moral guidance into moral cripples dependent upon a moral authority.):

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for suggesting these links. And yes, there was a hiccup somewhere. Your other comment attempt wasn't in the queue, so thanks for re-posting.


John Shepard said...

You're very welcome, Gus, for the suggestions. They're all excellent, and timely.

In the interview, Limbaugh does challenge the idea of separation of church and state -- "Regardless of what Jefferson meant, the issue I think is what the Constitution meant…[y]ou can read all kinds of other writing that will indicate that the purpose of the Establishment Clause was to prohibit the federal government from establishing a religion and to keep it from interfering with any established religions that the states had set up. But, not to completely create a separation between church and state. There was no intent to completely divorce the government from religious matters."

And Dr. Ghate addresses his claim in his talk "The Separation of Church and State," even pointing out that rights are being violated on both sides. Ghate goes to the Founders dependence upon Enlightenment thinkers, especially John Locke, and although Locke was religious, he was firmly for a wall of separation between church and state. But as Ghate says in his talk, although the "wall of separation" is a metaphor, and a good one, one cannot understand it without understanding the principles for which that metaphor stands for. Limbaugh doesn't know what he's talking about.

Dr. Ghate also addresses Limbaugh's claim that "[t]he Judeo-Christian ethic is one that is undergirded by absolute truth" (as opposed to moral relativism) in his talk on religion and morality. Limbaugh's claim is much worse than nonsense, as Ghate make very clear.

Re the trouble or confusion I had in posting:

I think that what happened is that I reviewed before posting, and then, on the review page, I clicked to post, but then I was returned to the original page for posting - my comment was still in this text box for comments. That's what confused me, as I expected the "post" button on the preview page to post my comment, but I don't think it did. Still, in the end, I was able to figure it out.

Being that I've only posted a few comments, I'm still learning how it works here.

Thank you again.

John Shepard said...

One other thing re the Limbaugh interview.

He stated: "I’ve said that liberals approach their politics almost as a theology too. They adhere to their liberal principles much as religious people adhere to their theology and their religion."

I've heard Rush say something similar, that liberals (and other with whom he disagrees) are just spouting a religion.

Do either of them realize that they are denouncing their own views as irrational when they say such things? I doubt it, but it's an interesting observation. Likely they would just claim that their faith is the true faith, and that settles it. Yeah, right.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for taking the time to point out the counterarguments Ghate has made to Limbaugh's nonsense.

Limbaugh isn't just wrong about what religious freedom is, he doesn't even realize what would make it possible.


Steve Jackson said...

I listened to Ghate's presentation and it seemed a little selective.

Jefferson was out of the US when the First Amendment was being drafted. Anyway, the First Amendment didn't initially apply to the states. Connecticut and Massachusetts had state churches until around 1830.

A while ago I read a book A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion and the American Founding by Ellis Sandoz which discussed the various influences on the founders, of which religion was one.

Gus Van Horn said...


While I haven't yet heard the lectures, I have met and conversed with Dr. Ghate in the past and am familiar with some of his past work. I would be surprised if he held that religion had no influence on the Founding Fathers, or that his work was somehow cherry-picking, as you seem to imply by your use of "selective" (which isn't necessarily synonymous with non-objective).

While religion did have an influence, the relevant question is whether this influence was consistent with the underlying idea of men having the right to pursue happiness or, indeed, with the wording of the establishment clause or Article VI of the Constitution. Many men had conflicting allegiances to religion and philosophical views ultimately incompatible with religion: I am sure that there were at least a few of these among the Founding Fathers.


Steve Jackson said...

There wasn't a single founder who was an atheist. While some weren't traditional in their religion (such as Jefferson, Madison and maybe Washington) there were many who were (such as Charles Carrol, Patrick Henry and Roger Sherman).

I heard a lecture by Dr. Ghate a few years ago where he said people at the time of Columbus thought that the earth was flat. I've read dozens of times that this is an urban ledge. Dr. Ghate hadn't heard this?

Gus Van Horn said...


"There wasn't a single founder who was an atheist."

Even if that assertion is true, it has no bearing on whether religion can or does, in fact, provide an intellectual foundation for a government that supports individual rights.

Likewise, regarding the common misconception you attribute to Dr. Ghate, so what? Was he basing his whole argument on it or was it, say an example of a silly belief -- like the idea that the Earth was the center of our solar system and the rest of the universe? -- that was once common and is now known to be wrong.

I am not going to be dragged into an argument about someone's intellectual credentials on the basis of (a) a few lectures I won't have the opportunity to view for some time, and (b) a speaking engagement I know nothing about.

Everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are not, in and of themselves, reasons to discount everything else a person says, although they can indicate that that is the proper course of action, depending on the answers to questions such as: (1) How relevant is the mistake to what someone is saying? (2) If the person making the mistake has been corrected, what does he do? and (3) Did the mistake reflect a basic error of thinking or a moral deficit (such as indifference to fact)?

There are cases when error reveals poor thinking or evasion, and I have stopped listening to people myself when I have determined that this is the case. That said, it is wrong to hold anyone up to the standard of omniscience when evaluating the merits of what they are saying.


Anonymous said...

I believed in the flat earth myth until my 20s when I came across J. Russell's book Inventing the Flat Earth in the library. I might have continued to believe it for another 20 years.

Just recently I read Cassirer's book An Essay on Man. He repeated the urban legend that Tertullian said "I believe it because its absurd" and the myth that there were churchmen who refused to look into Galileo's telescope. Cassirer was most of the learned men of his time.

There's a good book called Galileo Goes to Jail which treats a number of religion/science myths such as Bruno was a martyr for science.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, ran across this when looking back over a certain banned commentor's comments; dunno if you want to put it up since it's so late, but I don't like to see falsehoods go unchallenged.

JB writes, "Just recently I read Cassirer's book An Essay on Man. He repeated the urban legend that Tertullian said 'I believe it because its absurd' and the myth that there were churchmen who refused to look into Galileo's telescope."

Both claims are pretty much false in the case of this book. First, as was pointed out to an interlocutor in a thread in which JB contributed under one of his other pseudonyms at New Clarion, while Tertullian did not make exactly the statement attributed to him, the phrase "I believe because it is absurd" has been called "Tertullian's dictum" or "Tertullian's paradox" for at least a century and a half as a short-hand description of fideism (it is, for example, a phrase Kierkegaard attributed to Tertullian and took as his own, which is one reason the phrase is so famous). The former is exactly the term Cassirer used in Essay on Man: "Tertullian's dictum Credo quia absurdum never lost its force." (97)

On the second point Cassirer wrote, "We may compare this attitude to the frame of mind of those adversaries of Galileo who consistently refused to look through the telescope and convince themselves of the truth of Galileo's astronomical discoveries because they did not wish to be disturbed in their implicit faith in the Aristotelian system." (240) That is, certain Aristotelian philosophers, not certain churchmen; two have been identified: Cesare Cremonini (professor of natural philosophy at Padua) and Giulio Libri (professor at Pisa).

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Snedcat.