This section deals with the positive and negative implications of organized religion, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition; the focus here is on religion as




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THE CHURCH


This section deals with the positive and negative implications of organized religion, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition; the focus here is on religion as a social institution. You may also want to look at the Divine Injunction chapter for evidence on the existence of God and the usefulness of religious rules as moral guidelines.


The Judeo-Christian tradition is a positive force

Historically, religion has generally been a positive force for moral development

John Macquarrie (prof. of philosophy, Oxford Univ.), Three Issues in Ethics, 1970, p. 96

“It is acknowledged as a matter of fact that during the course of human history, religion and morals have been closely associated with each other. It is true that there have sometimes been religions with inhuman elements, practicing cruel and degrading rites. It is true also that there have been and are many highly moral persons who have disclaimed any religious convictions. Yet, on the whole, we are bound to say that the bond between religion and morals has been a close one.”


Faith has been an essential element in every period of great human achievement

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), “Worship” in Essays: The Conduct of Life, 1860, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 384

“It is certain that worship stands in some commanding relation to the health of man, and to his highest powers, so as to be, in some manner, the source of intellect. All the great ages have been ages of belief.”


Divine revelation is a path to truth

Andrew Sullivan (staff editor), “Oh, Karol,” The New Republic, January 31, 1994, p. 6

[According to the 1993 papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor]: “The origins of truth are to be found in revelation. Such truth is solely interpreted by the highest authorities in the Roman Catholic Church. It is an objective norm. It cannot be questioned. Conscience is not wrestling with this revelation to decide what is good and what is evil. It is correctly applying it to every single act. Believing in the truth and applying it in one’s life are inseparable activities.”


Religious values can transcend their sectarian origins

David Nirenberg (Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor in history and the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago), “Love and Capitalism,” The New Republic, September 23, 2009, p. 42

“Values are not a zero-sum game. God’s place in the world is not lost when one religion tries to translate some of its truths into helpful good sentiments for those of other or no faith, something that Pius XI and John Paul II both understood.”


Judging morality by Christian standards has a long tradition

Brooks R. Walker (graduate, Harvard Divinity School; minister to Unitarian Fellowship of Northern Westchester NY), The New Immorality, 1968, p. 92

[For the Puritans]: “Acts were judged to be moral or immoral, acceptable or criminal, not with regard to social necessity, but in relation to what was assumed to be the state of the offender’s soul. The scriptures were the sole guide to an understanding of what was to be expected of men and women in the world, and sin was judged accordingly.”


Christian ethics supersede notions of duty, justice, and rights

Arthur Clutton-Brock (British essayist, critic and journalist, 1868-1924), Essays on Life, 1925, p. 64

“Laws, justice, rights: these are all human notions made necessary by human imperfections, and all of them consent to that imperfection. There is a contract, a bargain, implied in all of them; but Christianity tells us to exact no contract or bargain. If we have a duty toward men, it is not because they do their duty towards us; rather the proper aim of the Christian is to rise above the sense of duty, and to do all things from the motive of love, to rise in fact into a higher state of nature in which he will not need the artifice of duty to guide him.”


Jesus is the inspiration of a way of living

John Macquarrie (prof. of philosophy, Oxford Univ.), Three Issues in Ethics, 1970, p. 89-90

“We are saying then that what is distinctive in the Christian ethic is not its ultimate goals or its fundamental principles, for these are shared with all serious-minded people in whatever tradition they stand. The distinctive element is the special context within which the moral life is perceived. This special context includes the normative place assigned to Jesus Christ and his teaching — not, indeed, as a paradigm for external imitation, but rather as the criterion and inspiration for a style of life. The context further includes the moral teaching of the Bible, and the ways in which this has been developed and interpreted by the great Christian moralists.”


God endures, even if particular Christian sects fade in popularity

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), “Worship” in Essays: The Conduct of Life, 1860, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 379

“The decline of the influence of Calvin, or Fenelon, or Wesley, or Channing, need give us no uneasiness. The builder of heaven has not so ill constructed his creature as that the religion, that is, the public nature, should fall out: the public and the private element, like north and south, like inside and outside, like centrifugal and centripetal, adhere to every soul, and cannot be subdued, except the soul is dissipated. God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins of churches and religions.”


The Christian tradition is a radical view of love

Bryan Magee (UK television documentarian, former Member of Parliament, and former philosophy lecturer or visiting fellow at Yale, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge), Confessions of a Philosopher: A Journey through Western Philosophy, 1997, p. 277

“What came through to me most strongly was the radically ‘different’ character of Jesus’ moral teaching. So different is it, indeed, that it borders on the incomprehensible. Other moralists put forward rules of behavior; other revolutionists in morals try to overthrow whatever are the existing rules and establish different ones in their stead; but Jesus is saying that rules, any rules, are not what morality is about. God, he says, is not in the business of awarding prizes to people who live in accordance with moral rules. You will not win any special favours from him by being virtuous, but are only too likely to find — to your great chagrin, no doubt, as well as your incomprehension — that he loves sinners just as much as he loves you. If this infringes on your sense of justice you have not understood the situation.”


The Judeo-Christian tradition is key to the spread of liberty

Michael Novak (former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission; American Enterprise Institute chair in religion and public policy), “A New Vision of Man: How Christianity has Changed Political Economy,” Imprimis, May 1995, p. 2-3

“Analogously, as Lord Acton argued in the essays he prepared for his History of Liberty, liberty is an idea coincident with the spread of Christianity. Up to a point, the idea of liberty is a Jewish idea. Every story in the Bible is about a drama involving the human will. In one chapter, King David is faithful to his Lord; in another, unfaithful. The suspense always lies in what he will choose next. Nonetheless, Judaism is not a missionary religion; normally one receives Judaism by being born of a Jewish mother; in this sense, Judaism is rooted in genealogy rather than in liberty. Beyond this point, Christianity expanded the notion of liberty and made it universal. The Christian ideal of liberty remains rooted in the liberty of the Creator, as in Judaism. Through Christianity, this Jewish idea becomes the inheritance of all the other peoples on earth.”


The Judeo-Christian tradition is key to the concept of equality

Michael Novak (former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission; American Enterprise Institute chair in religion and public policy), “A New Vision of Man: How Christianity has Changed Political Economy,” Imprimis, May 1995, p. 4

“In this respect, Judaism and Christianity grant a fundamental equality in the sight of God to all human beings, whatever their talents or station. This equality arises because God penetrates below any artificial rank, honor, or station that may on the surface differentiate one from another. He sees past those things. He sees into us. He sees us as we are in our uniqueness, and it is that uniqueness that He values.”


Faith has flourished in America due to lack of an established religion

Phil Zuckerman (prof. of sociology and religion, Claremont College), “Secularization: Europe — Yes, United States — No,” Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2004, p. 51

“Unlike the many European nations mentioned above, the United States has never had an official government-sponsored, enforced, or directly subsidized religion. Indeed, the separation of church and state — though perpetually and often vigorously challenged — is a hallmark of American democracy. And yet, despite this lack of state-enforced religion (or perhaps because of, as some theorists would argue), the United States is, in the words of Robert Fuller (2001, 1), ‘arguably one of the most religious nations on earth.’ From the professed faith and church participation of our presidents, to the thriving of Christian media, from Alabama courthouse prayer vigils to Madonna’s obsession with the Cabala, secularization is hard to observe in the United States (at least once one steps off college campuses).”


America’s social and political institutions rely on Judeo-Christian religious concepts

Michael Novak (former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission; American Enterprise Institute chair in religion and public policy), “A New Vision of Man: How Christianity has Changed Political Economy,” Imprimis, May 1995, p. 7

“In this sense, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice once wrote, ‘Our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ They do not presuppose any Supreme Being. They presuppose the God of Judaism and Christianity. And not only our institutions presuppose these realities. So do our conceptions of our own identity, and the daily actions of our own lives. Remove these religious foundations from our intellects, our lives, and the free society — its complex checks and balances, and its highly articulated divisions of power — becomes incoherent to understanding and unworkable in practice.”


Christian ideals were essential to the creation of America

Tim LaHaye (American evangelical Christian minister, author, and speaker), “The future of the American idea: Godless Society,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 2007, p. 45-46

“America’s uniqueness is based in the Christian consensus of the Founding Fathers, who penned documents guaranteeing religious and personal freedom for all. This nation was not founded by atheists, secularizers, or monarchists who thought the elite educated class should rule over the common people. America’s founding was based more on biblical principles than any other nation’s on Earth — and that’s the main reason this country has been more blessed by God than any other nation in history. No other nation has enjoyed freedom of religion, freedom of electoral choice, and freedom of vocational pursuits for a longer period of time than the United States.”


Religion is one of the few remaining deep reservoirs of moral values

David Nirenberg (Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor in history and the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago), “Love and Capitalism,” The New Republic, September 23, 2009, p. 42

“Religions offer one of the few reservoirs of moral values still deep enough to nourish popular visions of a more ‘common good’ (as the Obama campaign realized when it adopted the scriptural tag ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’).”


Religious traditions were the wellspring of American freedom and just government

Margaret Thatcher (prime minister of the United Kingdom, 1979-1990), “The Moral Foundations of Society,” Imprimis, March 1995, p. 1

“For over two centuries, Americans have held fast to their belief in freedom for all men — a belief that springs from their spiritual heritage. John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, ‘Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.’ It was an astonishing thing to say, but it was true.”


God is the inspiration behind the American political system

William Norman Grigg (staff editor), “The UN is Not Your Friend,” The New American, October 22, 2001, p. 9

“The fundamental principle of our constitutional system is that individual rights come from God.”


America’s religious tradition and capitalism are mutually reinforcing

Paul Baumann (editor, Commonweal), “The Invisible Hand of God,” The Washington Monthly, May-June 2009, p. 41

“But the story as told by Micklethwait and Wooldridge emphasizes a cultural dynamic and ideology — namely, competitive free enterprise — over any individual contribution. As the authors rightly note, because religion was divorced from the state in America, religious leaders and communities had to fend for themselves, building their own institutions while competing strenuously for believers with other religious groups. This separation of church and state is akin to the rules of the free market, which may explain why religion has flourished in America in contrast to other developed nations where the state has had a much heavier hand in the support of religion. This, in turn, demanded greater innovation and an emphasis on what might be called customer service. God Is Back traces this church model to the revivals or ‘awakenings’ of the nineteenth century as well as the pragmatic outreach and organization of the Methodist Church, once the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. We follow Evangelical Protestantism’s ups and downs like a stock price, from Prohibition and the Scopes trial to George W. Bush and right up to the current moment. (The crestfallen reaction of conservative evangelicals and Catholics to Barack Obama’s election gets little attention, however.) Faced with the challenge of marketing faith in a postindustrial society, contemporary American ‘pastorpreneurs’ have turned to sophisticated business models for inspiration and instruction.”


The Church’s maintains a sphere of authority distinct from that of the state

Martha C. Nussbaum (prof. of law and philosophy, Univ. of Chicago), “The First Founder,” The New Republic, September 10, 2008, p. 29

“According to Williams, there are two separate sets of ends and activities in human life, and corresponding to these are two sorts of authority. Civil authority concerns ‘the bodies and goods of subjects’ (exactly the account that Locke later gives). Civil authority must protect people’s property and bodily security, and it may use force to do so. Its foundation lies in the people, and it is they who choose civil magistrates. The other sphere of human life is that of the soul and its safety. Churches have this sphere as their jurisdiction, with the proviso that their only proper means of addressing the soul is persuasion. The two sorts of authority, civil and spiritual, can coexist peaceably together. Peace is in jeopardy only to the extent that churches overstep their boundaries and start making civil law or interfering with people’s property and liberty.” [Reference is to Roger Williams, 1603-1683: English-born theologian and cofounder of the colony of Rhode Island]


The Church serves as a check to the excessive power of civil government

Bruce P. Frohnen (Associate Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University College of Law), “The patriotism of a conservative,” Modern Age, Spring 2006, p. 110

“Religion serves as a fundamental source of the norms and values of a people. It also must serve as a check on the powers of political institutions and actors. Indeed, Harold Berman has argued that the western legal tradition was formed by the victory of the pope over the Holy Roman Emperor during the early middle ages, when the church won the right to choose its own bishops (rather than merely accept the local monarch’s men). The result was establishment of an effective alternative jurisdiction for the application of law and conscience and a resulting check on political power.”


The Church’s role as a counterweight to civil power can be lost

Bruce P. Frohnen (Associate Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University College of Law), “The patriotism of a conservative,” Modern Age, Spring 2006, p. 111

“But the benefits of religion as a check on political power, as a source of standards higher than the state, can be lost. They can be lost both through secularization — the rejection of religious standards over our conduct — and through establishment. An established religion may fall under the sway of state power, and so could well serve to corrupt and even to obliterate standards and principles external to that state, by which the tradition and policies of the nation ought to be judged. The natural law itself may come to be overlooked or corrupted as the state comes to internalize moral judgment within itself, seeking to stand as the arbiter of its own morality.”


Dissidents from religious orthodoxy should be punished

Martha C. Nussbaum (prof. of law and philosophy, Univ. of Chicago), “The First Founder,” The New Republic, September 10, 2008, p. 24-25

“The Europeans of Massachusetts reacted to insecurity by enforcing orthodoxy of religious belief and practice. Roger Williams’s lifelong intellectual adversary John Cotton, pastor of the First Church of Boston and one of Massachusetts’s most influential religious leaders, wrote copiously in defense of religious persecution, arguing that it was necessary for civil order. It was also God’s will, Cotton said, in order to separate the diseased element of society from the healthy element. Heretics and dissidents are like Satan in our midst. Even if they behave peaceably, they are enticements to sin. Cotton urged imprisonment, banishment, and other harsh penalties for the unorthodox.”

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