October 24, 2003


Bird's Eye (Karl Zinsmeister, October/November 2003, American Enterprise)

For many God-fearing people, worship is the time when they feel most elevated, most removed from other creatures that lack spiritual discernment. Chimpanzees use tools. Dolphins play and gambol with each other. Every animal indulges in carnal life and communicates with fellow members of the species. Even the crudest organisms can breed and reproduce themselves. But only man is able to discern and embrace the universe’s higher order. Only man worships and gives thanks to his Creator. Only man practices altruism, exercises compassion, offers praise, and suppresses his own selfish interests to honor the God who exists beyond our immediate surface life.

The companionship of God offers much in return: chances to learn and practice moral action. Experiences that elevate one’s thinking. The power and peace that come from a Father’s constant presence. An abstract yet powerfully immediate fraternity with millions of other humans from different places and times. Opportunities to be holy. These are the truest rewards of faith.

Yet Christians and Jews are also enjoined to be distinctive in the routines of their day-to-day lives. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells the first members of the church to live as “children of light” and pursue “goodness, righteousness, and truth.” A whole series of very specific injunctions follow: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” Christians are told not to be angry or slanderous, to be kind, to avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, and greed. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” instructs St. Paul -- because the everyday actions of Christians are their advertisement to the rest of the world.

Theoretically, then, in addition to their richer philosophical understandings Christians ought to be registering unusually wholesome earthly outcomes.

Does that happen in practice? The verdict of this issue of The American Enterprise is that, yes indeed, things generally go better with God. Societies are more prosperous and individuals more thriving where faith blooms.

Eventually one arrives at a rather important question: if the success of the American Republic is largely dependent on faith, and if a significant portion of the society has grown hostile to faith, need they be tolerated at the risk of losing the society entire?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2003 6:20 AM

That is one gigantic if.

The success of the American Republic is dependent upon faith in the civic religion, period.

If the founders were right in that the civic religion is founded upon self evident, unalienable rights, then one's specific sectarian beliefs are irrelevant.

I think they were right.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 12, 2003 8:48 PM


That's right: your sect doesn't matter so long as you believe Man was Created and that as part of that Creation has rights from God. Failure to so believe is a departure from the civic religion and must eventually threaten the Republic.

Posted by: oj at October 12, 2003 9:30 PM


Your riposte is a non-sequitor. My opinion regarding the why is completely irrelevant as long as I agree to the what.

And there are plenty of good reasons to substantiate the what without resorting to your particular why.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 7:22 AM


What, are you trying to provoke an out of body experience, or disorienting temporal distoration?

Imagine the surprise and amazement when I found I had already made a post to something I didn't think I had seen...

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 7:24 AM

Humans are far from the only animals to exercise compassion.

If religious faith is all that is necessary to keep the Republic from doom, then America is in no particular danger. Opponents of religion may be noisy, but they aren't numerous, as compared to those who profess to be religious.

Are we speaking only of organized religion, or is spirituality enough ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 24, 2003 9:27 AM

Humans may not be the only animals to excercise compassion, but they are for damn sure the only ones who excercise cruelty beyond measure.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 24, 2003 10:39 AM


Self-evident truths are dependent on the nature of man within the creation which of course posits a creator. Whether one, such as yourself, wishes to acknowledge that which the framers believed all men should acknowledge, namely a dependence on God rather than man, is unimportant at the individual level. It's OK to be a practicing atheist, don't worry. But the founding documents of what was to become the USA are premised on the belief in God as the source of rights and human dignity rather than man and government. Thus the limitations on the power of gov't. The secularist and rationalist tendency has uniformly recomended that the power of the state be enhanced in the name of various things or causes: the general will, the workers, women, minorities, etc., etc., Almost without exception, the main drivers of these class or interest group politics are secularist and statist. Why?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 24, 2003 2:15 PM


The founding documents are equally meaningful if one's entering argument is that these rights exist independently of all other considerations. That is, no matter what you think of Creators or Government, they still exist.

And the secular/rationalist tendency has been anything but uniformly as you suggest. Besides, plenty of religiously motivated people desire to invoke the power of the state to provide more "moral" outcomes.

The proof is in the pudding.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 2:34 PM


Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 24, 2003 3:14 PM

Are you claiming that the Black Hand acted out of religious pretense? If so, that should exculpate all the fundies you knew in East Tennessee. Their 'organization' was not nearly as violent.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 24, 2003 3:44 PM

Jeff --

I just don't get how rights can have an independent existence if there are no gods. By what mechanism do they come into being? By what mechanism are they enforced? Can we see them, touch them or have independent confirmation of their existence? What argument can convince you that rights exist independent of society, but not that G-d exists?

In a materialist universe, rights can only be founded on human reason and that's no foundation at all. It seems to me the best that can be done is to become a Benthamite and argue that certain rights should be established to promote the greatest good amoung the greatest number of people, but what rights will result in the greatest good -- even the question of what is the greatest good -- is open to question and there's no guarantee that the people in power will be Benthamites in the first place.

In short, to believe that rights have an independent existence in any meaningful way requires a belief that ideas can have an existence independent of but compulsory to mankind. Who can think such thoughts? Only G-d.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 24, 2003 3:44 PM


The proof is in the pudding.

When the individual freedom/constitutionally limited government meme hit the table, everything changed. An intellectual mutation introduced a brand new, virulent, political life form.

Whether you invoke creators, or not, it just doesn't matter. Human nature is utterly independent of your conception of G-d, or mine. It is what it is.

You are right , rights don't have an independent existence. But, then no matter your concept of God, they had no existence over the first 99,700 years of identifiable human existence. Yet, here they are. Why?

Because they work better. An ugly, utilitarian argument that may be, but it does rather have the advantage mountains of evidence to back it up.

You impose a false dichotomy. In a materalist universe, there is another alternative: our rights have a fitness existence. Try and name a more fit society that doesn't have these rights--you can't.

Our rights are an outstanding example of applied evolution.

In the rights debate, nothing counts like results.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 5:20 PM

Jeff, look around. We are at best a small island of rights in a sea of might makes right.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 24, 2003 5:28 PM


Yes, and?

Do those instances of might makes right produce more fit societies, or not?

If yes, I'd love to hear which one it is.

If not, then QED.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 8:32 PM

Jeff --

Where you see a viral meme readying to sweep the world through survival of the fittest, I see a fragile island of sanity that might be engulfed at any moment. You arguably have the last 100 years of western history on your side. I definately have the last 3000 years of world history on mine. You might be right, but I'm not willing to bet my kid's lives on it.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 24, 2003 11:57 PM

I just meant that Sicily was once rich and tolerant and then became intolerant and poor.

No one can tell me the Sicilians were not enamored of the doctrines of Catholicism. What did it get them in this world?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2003 12:15 AM


Better than that, you have the last 99,700 years on your side.

But that is wholly beside the point. Has not this meme been very viral over the last 230-ish years?

Of course it has. And the reason it has been so viral is because it is consistent with human nature, with very observable results.

Those results obtain regardless of one's religious beliefs. Which is why adhering to the what is important, because the why lies in the pudding, not in whatever your particular concept of a supreme being happens to be.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 9:06 PM