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Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean Announces Official Democratic Theology:

JTA (the Jewish Telegraph Agency) reports:

"This country is not a theocracy," Dean said. "There are fundamental differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party believes that everybody in this room ought to be comfortable being an American Jew, not just an American; that there are no bars to heaven for anybody; that we are not a one-religion nation; and that no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field."

Now I think I understand the message Dean is trying to convey. Many American Jews (the audience here was the United Jewish Communities' general assembly) are uncomfortable with many traditionalist Christians' expressed views that only Christians can go to heaven. I can understand why they are uncomfortable with those views: They worry that people who think non-Christians are going to Hell will act badly towards non-Christians in this world as well, not a certain connection but a plausible one. Dean wants to tell Jews, and others, that the Democratic Party welcomes non-Christians.

Yet in fact I take it that many Democrats, who are traditionalist Christians, do believe (whether quietly or loudly) in salvation by faith alone. The Democratic Party has, to my knowledge, taken no votes on the subject, and the Party hasn't made this part of any platform.

Nor would it be proper for it to do so: Despite the possible secular implications of this theological question, it remains a quintessentially theological question. I am not wild about the modern American practice of acknowledging God in even an abstract way, precisely because that too is a theological question. But at least that's part of a longstanding tradition, drained by repetition of much theological meaning, and a pretty big tent (though of course not all-encompassing). The question of who gets to heaven is a much more contentious question, and if people thought the Democratic Party actually officially expressed the Party's belief about it, this would lead to the very sorts of denominational conflict that Dean seems to be trying to avoid.

So how then can Dean assure Jews, or anyone else, that "The Democratic Party believes ... that there are no bars to heaven for anybody"? He can assure people that he believes in this; he can surely declare his own theology even if the Democratic Party shouldn't declare one of its own. He can assure people that the Democratic Party stands for civil equality without regard to religion, or make similar secular commitments (assuming that is indeed the official position of the Democratic Party). But he can no more make assurances about the Democratic Party's stand on salvation through works than he can about its stand on transsubstantiation or Papal infallibility.

Thanks to James Taranto (OpinionJournal) for the pointer.

Eli Rabett (www):
Are you sure that the Republican party has taken no stand on this issue, or are you just Dean bashing?
11.14.2007 1:14am
Brice Timmons (mail) (www):
I think Congress should immediately consider the question of equal access to Heaven. This is clearly a federal issue of some gravity, and the stance of the various parties is intensely relevant. Under U.S.C. 42 §1983 it seems that segregating heaven and hell along religious lines is just as illegal as segregating schools by race. Further, as most religions believe God to be all-encompassing it would seem that God is subject to federal regulation because (s)he is in the United States. Heck, given that, Congress really doesn't need to handle this. Anyone concerned that they might not get into Heaven can simply go down to their Federal District Court and petition for a Writ of Mandamus to compel God (or St. Peter) in his/her official capacity to allow them equal access to Heaven under §1983. Would nailing the summons to the door of a church (a la Martin Luther) qualify as sufficient service of process?
11.14.2007 1:41am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Have we polled Hitler, as well, just to make sure every party is covered? Eli, the Republican party's status on this matter is about as relevant as the Greene Party's, when distinguishing whether Dean's statement was accurate and/or proper. It shouldn't take much time at a fancy school to realize this, particularly given that the only reference to the Republican PArty in Mr. Volokh's statements was by Mr. Dean. Mr. Volokh most certainly stated nothing about the Republican Party's position or lack thereof on the matter.

Politics are one of the many locations where what is good for the goose seldom applies properly to the gander, and vice versa.

Speaking as a soulless animal on the matter, I think Mr. Dean has every right and ability to state the quoted material. I might disagree with it, but I have little reason to doubt that a large enough selection of avowed Democratic groups would agree with his statement. He may likely not have, and he may have dissenters on the matter, but as long as he either believed a good portion of the Democratic Party would agree with him, or that the Democratic Party should hold such as a plank. As a plank, it seems like to be fairly successful; even among devote Christians the idea of people being eternally damned or in purgatory or (the now-defunct) limbo for a while for being a good person but ending up in the wrong place or the wrong time is hard to agree with.

It's not objectively false for President Bush to state that Americans side with the freedom of the Iraqi people regardless of the most recent polls; it stands to belief that Dean's position would allow him to make statements about the Democratic party without taking polls. In both cases, the individual already took all the polls that matter.

Again speaking as a soulless animal, though, I kinda question the "cringe at the last line of a prayer" aspect. The doxology that comes at the end of most modern Christian popular prayers is not exactly unusual or different from many similar systems seen in prayers recognized by Jewish texts. I don't quite understand why it would be cringe-worthy to a Jewish individual. For that matter, most of the Lord's Prayer is typical of Jewish beliefs and viewpoints (most notably "thy kingdom come, thy will be done", which is extremely viewpoint-similar to the Jewish beliefs of a coming messiah).
A more atheistic viewpoint might find such things wasteful or pointless, but it seems strange to me that someone certain something does not exist would still cringe at its mention.
11.14.2007 1:42am
TruePath (aka logicnazi) (mail) (www):
Yup, salvation by faith alone is a pretty standard mainstream belief. Yet somehow Ann Coulter managed to generate a pretty big outcry just for taking the extremely mild view that faith gives one an advantage in terms of salvation (i.e. the faithful are more likely to make it into heaven).

Well that plus being smart enough to realize (and not lie when asked) that this plus a belief in the truth of christianity necessarily entailed the claim that it would be preferable if Jews converted to christianity. After all if you believe that no only is christianity true but believing in it helps save your immortal soul you would have to be really perverse not to think everyone should believe.

Of course I tend to think this whole issue just illustrates how little thought most people put into religion. Even fairly trivially equivalent propositions don't register as such to people because, despite believing this is the most important thing ever, haven't put much thought into it.

It really seems like at some level people don't grasp that saying that (christian/whatever) faith is an important aid for salvation is equivalent to saying having the incorrect faith is a serious detriment.
11.14.2007 1:44am
TruePath (aka logicnazi) (mail) (www):
As an aside you do realize that this statement technically implies that catholics aren't democrats.

The official dogma of the catholic church is still that there is no salvation outside the church. Of course in recent years they have softened this by including those who 'through no fault of their own' were prevented from being baptized as members of the church as well (where no fault has been read so broadly by some popes as to include those socially barred from baptism by being raised in another faith). However this doesn't change the fact that it's still official dogma that those outside the church are barred from salvation and that contradicts with Dean's statement.
11.14.2007 1:48am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Eli Rabett: I haven't heard of Republican Party leaders' purporting to express the Party's views on salvation by faith, predestination, the Arian heresy, or similar topics. Am I sure the Republican leaders haven't done this? Of course not; I don't follow their every statement, nor do I know how to quickly search for such statements. Surely the standard can't be "Don't criticize officials of Party X for their unsound statements unless you're positive that officials of Party Y haven't done the same thing"; if it were, no criticisms would ever be forthcoming, except from political junkies who do follow every statement of the party leadership.

But I'll happily make you this offer: If a Republican Party leader has purported to say what theological views the Republican Party believes in, I'll be happy to criticize him as well. Just please do the work of finding such a statement, rather than expecting me to find assurances of the absence of such a statement.
11.14.2007 1:49am
AK (mail):
no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field.

So the Democratic party now endorses group prayer before sporting events? No, wait, this is just pandering. My mistake.

I'm sure Andrew Sullivan is quaking in his leather chaps at the prospect of Howard Dean's theocracy.
11.14.2007 1:51am
AK (mail):
I haven't heard of Republican Party leaders' purporting to express the Party's views on salvation by faith, predestination, the Arian heresy, or similar topics.

That's right, Professor V, and I don't think you'd be able to find them. It takes a special kind of tone deafness toward religion to say that a secular political party has a specific theology, a tone deafness that is only present in the major party that is openly hostile towards religion in general and Christianity in particular.
11.14.2007 1:55am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Yet somehow Ann Coulter managed to generate a pretty big outcry just for taking the extremely mild view that faith gives one an advantage in terms of salvation..."

No, Ann Coulter provoked an outcry for stating that her idea of Heaven would be like the Republican National Convention--"...happy...Christian...tolerant..." Which is exactly what Dean was rebutting.
11.14.2007 2:22am
AK (mail):
The official dogma of the catholic church is still that there is no salvation outside the church. Of course in recent years they have softened this by including those who 'through no fault of their own' were prevented from being baptized as members of the church as well (where no fault has been read so broadly by some popes as to include those socially barred from baptism by being raised in another faith).

I assume that by "recent years" you mean, "since at least A.D. 381, when St. Gregory Nazianzen preached on the topic of baptism by desire."

As far as there being "no salvation outside the Church," yes, that is what the Church teaches. I don't know what this broad reading about being "socially barred from baptism" that "some popes" have put forth is, but I assume you're referring to the Catechism (846-847):
the Church... is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it... Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
In other words, if you don't know that the Church is necessary for salvation but you still are doing the right things, you may be part of the Church. This fits in completely with the Church's teaching on salvation and sin: mortal sin requires a free, knowing choice of evil. We haven't sinned if we don't know what we're doing is wrong, and thus we haven't damned ourselves.
11.14.2007 2:23am
Adrian (mail):
Perhaps Dean just meant "the Democratic Party does not believe in bars to heaven for anyone". At least, I take it that's what he should have said that. But it doesn't take much charity to interpret him that way; negator-transposition errors are common enough.
11.14.2007 3:28am
Brian K (mail):
But it doesn't take much charity to interpret him that way

you're on a primarily conservative blog. charity is not given to liberals, only other conservatives.
11.14.2007 3:38am
John McCall (mail):
The Democratic Party believes that everybody in this room ought to be comfortable being an American Jew

I expected this post to be a joke centered around this line.

Dean can be pretty irritating, but it's clear that he's not precisely at his most fluent in this passage.
11.14.2007 4:47am
Warmongering Lunatic:
This is the same Howard Dean who is sufficiently ignorant of Christan doctrines to forcefully assert that George W. Bush was not his neighbor (in the New Testament sense). What are the chances he actually knows that there are many Christians in the Democratic Party (for example, a significant segment of black Evangelicals) that believe only Christians can go to Heaven?
11.14.2007 4:52am
Cecilius:
"'So how then can Dean assure Jews, or anyone else, that "The Democratic Party believes ... that there are no bars to heaven for anybody'?"

Very easily - because it's that fundraising, vote pandering time of year. He can assure Jews that the Democrats think they will go to heaven. He'll assure gun owners that Democrats think the 2nd Amendment protects them; tell Green Bay Packers fans that the Democrats think Brett Favre is the best; if she's got her checkbook open, he'll tell an ugly girl that the Democrats think she's pretty. To Dean this is not a theological question - it's just saying whatever he thinks is necessary to bring in the money.
11.14.2007 5:53am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
The Democratic party is strongly opposed to papal infallibility.
11.14.2007 6:25am
Swede:
Howard Dean was put on this planet for my personal amusement. The fact that he's the Democratic National Committee Chair only makes it better.

And he's right. Every time Republicans finish a prayer with "in Jesus' name we pray, amen" it's done to make Jews cry. How's that working by the way? Are you...UNCOMFORTABLE?!!! MWUAAAAHAAAAHAAAAHAAAHAAAA!

I've heard that their next big plan is to pull people out of their cars at stop lights and convert them on the spot. As a Lutheran, I made the suggestion that we substitute holy water at all carwashes. Instant Conversion!!

Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, etc. ALL OF YOUR BASES ARE BELONG TO US!!!!

For my next trick, I'm going to pull the string on Howard's back and more stupid things will fall out of his mouth. You won't have to wait very long.
11.14.2007 6:32am
spectator:

In other words, if you don't know that the Church is necessary for salvation but you still are doing the right things, you may be part of the Church.

That's not what the text says. I think the part about grace you left out is rather important, considering Pelagius and all.
11.14.2007 6:42am
dearieme:
It makes more sense to discuss whether our cats and dogs get entry.
11.14.2007 7:23am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It strikes me as a bit mean to be paying attention, or to publicly notice, a person who has such a mental handicap.
Polite people ignore Dean, as they pretend to not hear the noises coming from a Tourette's sufferer.
To pay attention is, effectively, to laugh and point at one of the unfortunate.
11.14.2007 8:01am
Floridan:
Maybe he should have said, "Those who claim that heaven is restricted to people who believe as they do are obviously expressing an opinion for which there is, on earth, no proof. It is not the job of the Democratic Party to consider, much less support, such conjecture."
11.14.2007 8:05am
pedro (mail):
Man, some of you people are dense. It is patently obvious (at least to anybody who does not take utterances as literally as some lawyers seem to do) that Howard Dean is not making a theological statement at all, but rather a cultural one. The point is not to reassure religious minorities that the Democratic party adopts a specific theological line according to which they will go to heaven (as Eugene Volokh wants--likely for partisan reasons--Dean to be implying), but that the Democratic party attracts people who are culturally opposite to the Ann Coulters of the Republican party. And this much is true. As an atheist, I feel orders of magnitude more comfortable among Democrats than among Republicans, notwithstanding how badly worded Howard Dean's reassurances may be.
11.14.2007 8:13am
Anderson (mail):
What Adrian said.

Frederick the Great reportedly said that everyone in Prussia had to get to heaven in his own way.

Happily, there were no blogs at the time to parse this as the practice of theology without a license.
11.14.2007 8:14am
Waldensian (mail):
What Anderson and Adrian said. The "EV overreaction meter" is pegged on this one. And for the record, I'm a howling atheist.
11.14.2007 9:08am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Pedro, of course that's what he meant to convey, but that's not actually what he said. If it's so obvious, let him issue a statement explaining clearly that the Democratic Party takes no position on whether there is a heaven or who can get into it. He's not just some random candidate, he's the head of the Democratic Party. He has a responsibility to choose his words with more care.
11.14.2007 9:12am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
I thought exclusivity was sort of the whole point of Heaven. What's the point of being good if you have to spend eternity with the same jackasses who made your earthly life so miserable?
11.14.2007 9:12am
Daniel San:
Adrian: Perhaps Dean just meant "the Democratic Party does not believe in bars to heaven for anyone". At least, I take it that's what he should have said that. But it doesn't take much charity to interpret him that way; negator-transposition errors are common enough.

How is this any less silly? It changes it from a commentary on what G-d does to a commentary on what G-d ought to do. Pedro, I think you are likely correct about Dean's intention, but saying things simply to contradict the bad people is a sure way to say a lot of silly things.
11.14.2007 9:14am
Justin (mail):
PatHMV,

If that's what he meant to convey, and its clear thats what he meant to convey, isnt that what he....conveyed?

There's no theory of linguistics that supports this kind of gotcha.
11.14.2007 9:16am
Sean M:
I think Congress should immediately consider the question of equal access to Heaven. This is clearly a federal issue of some gravity, and the stance of the various parties is intensely relevant. Under U.S.C. 42 §1983 it seems that segregating heaven and hell along religious lines is just as illegal as segregating schools by race. Further, as most religions believe God to be all-encompassing it would seem that God is subject to federal regulation because (s)he is in the United States. Heck, given that, Congress really doesn't need to handle this. Anyone concerned that they might not get into Heaven can simply go down to their Federal District Court and petition for a Writ of Mandamus to compel God (or St. Peter) in his/her official capacity to allow them equal access to Heaven under §1983. Would nailing the summons to the door of a church (a la Martin Luther) qualify as sufficient service of process?

The trouble, I think, is proving that God acts "under color of law" when He bars non-believers from Heaven. However, we might ask whether Heaven is a "place of public accommodation" or a private club that is legally permitted to discriminate. But that brings us back the original question about who gets in in the first place...
11.14.2007 9:18am
Ken Arromdee:
A more atheistic viewpoint might find such things wasteful or pointless, but it seems strange to me that someone certain something does not exist would still cringe at its mention.

There are Jews who cringe at the claim that Jews drink the blood of Christian babies, even though they're certain that they don't.

Atheists know very well that political parties' official statements about religion have implications for the real world. God himself doesn't exist, but people who act in his name do, and it's *that* which makes them cringe.
11.14.2007 9:24am
davod (mail):
Grover Gardner

"No, Ann Coulter provoked an outcry for stating that her idea of Heaven would be like the Republican National Convention--"...happy...Christian...tolerant..." Which is exactly what Dean was rebutting."

Don't be silly. The outcry was, as usual, sponsored by those with a negligible knowledge of religions, designed to start a fight among the religious.

You should at least watch the full clips of what she said.
11.14.2007 9:30am
neurodoc:
Pedro, you have it exactly right, Dean was not addressing himself to any theological issues per se. He was saying the Democratic Party does not hold itself out to be G-d's party, whereas many Republican Party leaders intimate that their party is the truest political expression of G-d's will here on earth, and that His will is set forth in the "New" Testament, though they may allude to "Judaeo-Christian values" in an effort to be more inclusive.

There are many reasons why Jews might/should go Republican, or at least much less strongly Democrat as they have over the years. But the Republican's regular mixing of the sacred and the profane for their political purposes, something which should be more troubling to a strong First Amendment champion like EV than it seems to be, is a big "cultural" turnoff for many Jews. Dean knows that and understandably tries to exploit it, just as my Republican Jewish Coalition friends try to exploit Jewish discomforture with the Democrats tolerance of antisemitism within their ranks, their foreign policy stances, etc.

EV: Yet in fact I take it that many Democrats, who are traditionalist Christians, do believe (whether quietly or loudly) in salvation by faith alone. The Democratic Party has, to my knowledge, taken no votes on the subject, and the Party hasn't made this part of any platform.
Exactly the point that Dean was making when he said,
Dean: This country is not a theocracy...The Democratic Party believes that...we are not a one-religion nation."
The Democratic Party is relatively "neutral" with respect to sectarian religion, the Republican Party decidedly not, usually advocating that religion, especially Christianity, be as much a part of public life as the courts will allow it to be, and they often express displeasure that the courts are not more permissive where the First Amendment is concerned.
11.14.2007 9:46am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I thought it was only the registered Independents who went to hell.
11.14.2007 9:53am
Kevin P. (mail):

neurodoc:
...whereas many Republican Party leaders intimate that their party is the truest political expression of G-d's will here on earth..

Many citations please.
11.14.2007 10:00am
Randy R. (mail):
Hmmmm. Interesting that we pick apart something Dean says that comes out contorted. How come we don't do that about Bushisms? Or Pat Robertsonisms? Surely those are much more bizarre than anything Dean says.

and, at least when it comes from the Prez, much more important. But then, that would make conservatives uncomfortable, and that is a religion that we don't practice here....
11.14.2007 10:04am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
These posts aptly illustrate the political theological problem about which I often blog. Let me respond to this passage by Eugene:


I haven't heard of Republican Party leaders' purporting to express the Party's views on salvation by faith, predestination, the Arian heresy, or similar topics. Am I sure the Republican leaders haven't done this?


At the national level I think he' right. However Texas Republicans did put in their platform that they believe America is a "Christian Nation," after Texas Republican David Barton.

This is a bad idea, just as Dean's statements were unwise, because most conservative Christian Texas I'd imagine take their faith very seriously, so seriously that Christianity defines as something very specific -- orthodox Trinitarian, and perhaps even anti-Roman Catholic. If pressed, such Christians would answer on the Arian heresy. And if America is a "Christian Nation," they'd desire, I'd imagine, "Christian" to exclude soul damning heresy. They don't want to think of America as founded in part or in alliance with Christian heresy. Yet, if you examine all the notable Founding Fathers (and philosophers they followed) who were or likely were heretics, that's a conclusion to which you would have to come, if you wish to assert some type of "Christian" American political theology. Better not to assert the theology. Leave it implicit.
11.14.2007 10:07am
Randy R. (mail):
AK :"In other words, if you don't know that the Church is necessary for salvation but you still are doing the right things, you may be part of the Church. "

Okay. But there are other religions, many Christian, that claim that salvation only comes through their teachings. For instance, born agains claim that you must be 'born again' or else no salvation. The Catholic Churhc has no such requirement. Others say that being born again isn't necessary at all. It's all so confusing -- each religion saying their way is the correct way to get to heaven, but each has a different way. Should I just join all the churches to cover my bets?

Who's right? I need to know, since my immortal soul is in danger.
11.14.2007 10:07am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Would nailing the summons to the door of a church (a la Martin Luther) qualify as sufficient service of process?

All you have to do is file it. Omniscience guarantees good service of process.
11.14.2007 10:08am
Farmer/Lawyer:
Howard Dean is going to Hell.
11.14.2007 10:17am
Hewart:
It seems pretty clear that Dean is saying that the Democratic party does not espouse views that subjugate one religion to another. The comments by Adrian and Brian K. at 3:28am and 3:38am, and echoed by others in this thread, seem particularly relevant.

I'm an Evangelical. But I find what the Republican party has been doing to religion, broadly speaking, in the past 30 years shows far more hostility to it than what the Democrats have done. At least, in my experience, the Republican Party members I know tend to be much more hostile to religions that are not their own, and use their politics to promote that hostility.

Dean is noting that, as far as he's concerned, there are no inherent theological barriers to practitioners of any religion in the Democratic party. This is quite a different sentiment to that espoused by many of my Republican acquaintances who are quite vocal about how the nation and its leadership should be formally considered Christian.

I have encountered a number of Christian fellowship groups where, when the topic of church and state is discussed, the prevailing sentiment has been that citizenship itself should hinge on whether someone is a Christian. I think this kind of admixture of Republican politics and theology can only be dismissed by those who have been improbably out of contact or willfully obtuse.

Of course, if I were only interested in having the government and its agents promoting my OWN particular religion, then I might take a different view, and consider that the Democratic Party, with its broader eye toward tolerance of all religious views, to be "hostile to religion". But it really wouldn't make it so.
11.14.2007 10:30am
Robbins Mitchell (mail):
"God does not shoot dice with the universe"

Albert Einstein
11.14.2007 10:35am
catullus (mail):
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me." John 14:6.
11.14.2007 10:38am
glangston (mail):
Dean surely isn't concerned about black evangelicals in his own party, so why the big fuss.

I tend to believe the simplest explanation that he was proselytizing for votes (and money) and decided this audience would really appreciate seeing him construct a straw man and then beat him down, Dean-style. Pure entertainment.
11.14.2007 10:39am
postroad (mail) (www):
It is incumbent upon political speakers to kis the butts of those they are addressing.In this case, Dean assures Jews that they are ok. Why make a big thing of this? I am old enough to recall that Yale (and other schools) had quota systems for Jews, and yet today Yale now has an institute to study antisemitism.

All this religion stuff is nonsense, for me, but when our president invokes god's will etc then why pick on lesser figures, like Democratic spokesmen?
11.14.2007 10:43am
Whadonna More:
The Democratic Party [is generally made up of the kind of people who] believe[] that everybody in this room ought to be comfortable being an American Jew, not just an American; that there are no bars to heaven for anybody; that we are not a one-religion nation; and that no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field [and the ones that don't tend to be more tolerant of beliefs other than traditional Protestantism].

There, fixed it for you Mr. Bushism-defender.



Truepath: As an aside you do realize that this statement technically implies that catholics aren't democrats.

The official dogma of the catholic church is still that there is no salvation outside the church.


That voting bloc of catholics who are in lockstep with the church's official dogma can be safely ignored, since it fits comfortably in a Prius.
11.14.2007 10:44am
sbron:
The Democratic Party does have a theology, and it has nothing to do with Judaism or Christianity: As a Democrat, you must believe in multiculturalism, open borders and racial preferences.
11.14.2007 10:47am
oxac (mail):
Eugene -- in terms of religious content(and implicature), would you distinguish between Dean's statement and the claim made by the Texas Republic Party in its (current) 2006 Platform that "American is a Christian nation." Do you think that amounts to an equivalent sectarian endorsement of religion by a political party? Would it be reasonable for non-Christians to view it that way?
11.14.2007 10:49am
Mark Buehner (mail):

no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field.

So the Democratic party now endorses group prayer before sporting events? No, wait, this is just pandering. My mistake.


Sounds like quite the opposite to me. Isn't he saying that the minority religions shouldnt be subjected to a majority prayer? And how do you prevent that terrible 'cringe' outside of either banning prayer or legislating its wording to be so broad as to be meaningless?

But that is pretty much the Democratic majority position on religious expression right? Not 'subjecting' anyone to displays of religion, the popular ones anyway. Leftist support for religious display varies inversely to the popularity of the religion. If you're religion is obscure and strange enough Dean will probably insist you get airtime on NPR.
11.14.2007 10:50am
byomtov (mail):
It is not only the Texas GOP that considers the US a christian nation. Consider this, from John McCain.

"I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."

I think it is unreasonable to criticize Dean for his comment without recognizing that the Republicans have icome close to adopting fundamentalist Christianity as their theology.
11.14.2007 10:52am
NJ (mail):
You guys rock, best pickers of nit on the web.

Randy R. maybe they don't dump on Bushisms and Pat Robertsonisms because those two say what they're expected to say; water's wet, the sky's blue, god-party people talking god talk. When a representative of the anti-god party says something that presupposes the existence of heaven, that's something to talk about. It's like how every Democratic candidate tries to make an appearance at a church in Harlem at some point; it makes you go whaaaat? It would be like Bush suddenly giving you how many erg/seconds there are in Planck's constant or some such.
11.14.2007 11:04am
Waldensian (mail):
I ask in all seriousness, and without snark: which religion(s) teach(es) that someone shouldn't spell out the word "God"?

I see people, here and elsewhere, writing "G-d" from time to time, but I'm not familiar with any religion that requires or endorses that practice. However, my ignorance doesn't prove much -- it is very safe to say that my education on matters religious was, and is, less than thorough.
11.14.2007 11:07am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I have encountered a number of Christian fellowship groups where, when the topic of church and state is discussed, the prevailing sentiment has been that citizenship itself should hinge on whether someone is a Christian.

But which Christianity? Orthodox, Mormon, Roman, Anabaptist?

I doubt that you've actually encountered many Republicans (Christian Reconstructionists tend to not like Republicans) that believe Citizenship should be restricted to Christians.
11.14.2007 11:09am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Contra McCain the question political scientist Thomas Pangle raises is given the Constitution [i.e., the First Amendment and Art. VI cl. 3] is so creedally indifferent did the Founders secretly intend to establish Founding era-theological unitarian-universalism or "generic theism" as the "de facto" creed of America.
11.14.2007 11:10am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
Perhaps Dean just meant "the Democratic Party does not believe in bars to heaven for anyone". At least, I take it that's what he should have said that. But it doesn't take much charity to interpret him that way; negator-transposition errors are common enough.

I don't see how this formulation is any better. It still contradicts the views of Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and many other folks who might once have considered themselves Democrats.

What is the Democratic party doing even having an opinion about who gets into heaven? I thought they believed in separating religion and politics.

For Dean to attribute opinions on the nature and admission standards of Heaven to his party is dumb, and shows a gross ignorance of the proper limits of politics. But then "ignorant of the proper limits of politics" and "dumb" are defining characteristics of the modern Democrat.
11.14.2007 11:11am
pedro (mail):
Ralph Phelan says: "What is the Democratic party doing even having an opinion about who gets into heaven?"

But this is exactly wrong. Any party that rejects adopting an opinion about who gets into heaven can be said to "not believe in bars to heaven for anyone." Absence of belief hardly amounts to "having an opinion about who gets into heaven."

A more sensible question would be "What is the Republican party doing defining America to be a Christian nation?"
11.14.2007 11:22am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
The Democratic Party does have a theology, and it has nothing to do with Judaism or Christianity: As a Democrat, you must believe in multiculturalism, open borders and racial preferences

And really, the most important part of Dean's statement isn't about heaven, it's "no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe".

We already know from watching the way liberals and leftists run campuses that the assumption that nobody should ever be subjected to hearing views that make them cringe logically implies abolising freedom of speech.

I find it alarming that Dean wants his party to apply that standard to the nation as a whole.
11.14.2007 11:22am
Scotts (mail):
What I wish Dean had said: the idea that a great majority of the world's people are going to be tortured for infinity for not accepting Jesus as their savior (by a "loving" god, no less) is just preposterous. Just because it falls under the rubric of religion or theology doesn't make it any less hateful or absurd.

Politicians and preachers can belike one another when they appeal to people's desire for a sense of superiority over others.
11.14.2007 11:23am
Thoughtful (mail):
Dean: "there are no bars to heaven for anybody"

Isn't the whole problem that there are no bars IN heaven for anybody? Wasn't it Twain that made that point?
11.14.2007 11:24am
oxac (mail):
There's another point to make here, which is that Dean's comments aren't entirely in context. He's speaking to a Jewish group long familiar with Republican officials (including Bush) who have said in public fora that non-Christians aren't going to heaven. Now you might argue that these statements by party officials don't represent an official party position, but that's rather naive, political speaking. Instead of saying publicly that non-Christians are going to hell, they could say, "Look, my theological views regarding the afterlife of non-Christians aren't relevant to my political decisions, and let's leave it at that." Instead, they appeal to Christians by making theological claims. If Democrats want to distinguish themselves by arguing that their candidates are more tolerant theologically, who can blame them? Why should they disarm unilaterally in a culture war that's often framed in religious and theological terms. Dean's comments might not be careful, but, as Eugene says, his message is clear enough. He's broadening the religious tent, so to speak, to distinguish the Democratic Party from what's frequently understood to be the Christian conservatism of the Republic Party. It's unfortunate that our politics takes this form, but picking out Dean's comment for special attention here seems to ignore the continuous and constant religious appeal (coded or not) of Republicans to evangelical Christians.
11.14.2007 11:25am
Houston Lawyer:
I believe that this is the same Howard Dean that left his congregation because they wouldn't give away church property for a bike path. I also recall him opening a can of verbal whup-ass on an elderly gentlemen who, when questioning his angry rhetoric asked if it wouldn't be better for Dean to "turn the other cheek".

A bigger question should be whether he believes the views of the Democratic trump his religious beliefs.
11.14.2007 11:25am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
would you distinguish between Dean's statement and the claim made by the Texas Republic Party in its (current) 2006 Platform that "American is a Christian nation." Do you think that amounts to an equivalent sectarian endorsement of religion by a political party?

That's an historical rather than a theological claim. It's sort of obvious that America is a Christian nation with a secular government. Never confuse nation and government.

Note that it's really hard to find a popular patriotic song that an atheist can sing.
11.14.2007 11:27am
JosephSlater (mail):
Pedro and Neurodoc got this non-issue entirely right upthread.
11.14.2007 11:30am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
I think all Christians are going to heaven, but only if they are really really nice to Jews.

Send them money, hire them for a job, introduce your son or daughter. You get the idea.

Me? I'm Jewish. Why do you ask?
11.14.2007 11:33am
Steve:
I ask in all seriousness, and without snark: which religion(s) teach(es) that someone shouldn't spell out the word "God"?

The use of "G-d" is a common practice among Orthodox Jews. See here, for example.
11.14.2007 11:34am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I ask in all seriousness, and without snark: which religion(s) teach(es) that someone shouldn't spell out the word "God"?


Many orthodox and some reformist Jewish groups advise it. The original rule states that certain names for god weren't to be used, probably resulting from the motif in ancient mythology about knowledge of a name symbolizing significant knowledge and even understanding or control of the thing. The vast majority of Jewish individuals will pronounce the name of god as a "yahweh" (the real name without its vowels), "Adonai" or "Elohim" in (The Lord and god, respectively, mostly used in religious ceremonies and text), "Elokim" (a corruption of Elohim, roughly equivalent to g-d) or even the word "Hashem" (meaning The Name).
There is no actual rule against writing God in the Modern Othodox Jewish dogma -- rabbi tend to have no problem writing the word on a blackboard and erasing it repeatedly to demonstrate this -- but doing so is considered to follow the spirit of the text, and thus improper to correct.

A very small number of Christians have picked up the habit, as well, although I don't believe it's part of any religious dogma there. It still exists in the text, but it's usually considered much more minor an offense. Using the proper four-word name for god is a literally damning act in the eyes of many rabbis, while most priests or clergymen would neither recognize it nor care. Thankfully, the correct pronunciation has been mostly lost to time, even if the letters themselves are still known, but it's considered a bad thing to risk.

The precise rule is fairly well known but interpreted in varying ways : you can find it in nearly every copy of the Bible in Deuteronomy 12:3-4. Describing the pagan worship in the area, the text says :
"Overthrow their altars, and break down their statues, burn their groves with fire, and break their idols in pieces: destroy their names out of those places. You shall not do so to the Lord your God"


There is a later exception which allowed the name to be placed, but that kinda went bye-bye in the ~70 CE era.
11.14.2007 11:36am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
Whadonna More:
The Democratic Party [is generally made up of the kind of people who] believe[] that everybody in this room ought to be comfortable being an American Jew, not just an American;
Good so far.

that there are no bars to heaven for anybody;
Stupid. This statement is unnecessary, insulting to some Democrats, and outside Dean or his party's area of competence.

that we are not a one-religion nation;
Fine.

and that no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field
Here's that implicit liberal promise to remake the world so you can slide through life without ever receiving a single bump or scrape. It's impossible to do, and the attempt causes lots of collateral damage (welfare mess, campus speech codes, the economic drag of crazy discrimination lawsuits, counteractive affirmative action programs, etc., etc....) But though I disagree with the basic assumptions, I suppose it's a sensible thing to say when campaigning to a bunch liberals.

[and the ones that don't tend to be more tolerant of beliefs other than traditional Protestantism].
Fine. Though I don't understand what's so bad about traditional Protestantism as compared to any other religion, I'll take it as a given that opposing it is a vote-getter for some.

Most of what Dean said is a standard statement of how liberals believe the United States should be run. The statement about the nature of Heaven just does not fit with the rest. Putting it in was a goof.

The problem is not with Dean's ability to express himself precisely, or with whether we understand him. If your translation is accurate we understood what he meant just fine the first time.

The problem is with what he meant.
11.14.2007 11:38am
Habeas Clerk:
I seem to recall having to endure several posts related to Slate's Bushisms in which EV went to great lengths to show that Slate was parsing Bush's words too closely to make him look foolish while ignoring the larger meaning of what he said.

Here, not so much. Certainly not one of Dean's most articulate moments, but, as others have noted, I think his larger point is that the Democratic party does not seek to exclude non-majority religions. It's not a theological point; it's a partisan speech made for political reasons.
11.14.2007 11:40am
Brice Timmons (mail) (www):
Why does cheeky pandering result in this kind of serious debate? I'm with Joseph. Non-issue. Next please.
11.14.2007 11:41am
Daniel San:
When Dean refers to cringing during the last line of a prayer, I assume that he is recognizing that the last line of most Christian prayers include a specific reference to Christ. He is not explicitly criticizing more generic forms of public prayer.
11.14.2007 11:41am
Henri Le Compte (mail):
When the government replaces God, at least we'll know what to expect. I think Dean was just acknowledging that eventuality.
11.14.2007 11:43am
Mark Field (mail):
I have to say, this is the silliest issue I've ever seen discussed at this site. It's patently obvious that Dean was making a political point, not a theological one. He was simply reaffirming that in the US, politics is religiously neutral. All Dean did was assure a religious minority that that his party was (but that mean old other party wasn't).
11.14.2007 11:51am
submandave (mail) (www):
"[Jews] worry that people who think non-Christians are going to Hell will act badly towards non-Christians in this world as well, not a certain connection but a plausible one."
Just as plausible in today's America as the assumption that everytime a white cop shoots a black kid it was racially motivated. Yes, anti-Semitism, even violent anti-Semitism, has historically been a problem in this country, but I cringe every time I hear this raised as a reason to assume that every profession of Christian faith poses the threat of another Holocaust. I am not in the business of pandering and fostering unreasonable fears concerning Freddy Kruger, so neither am I in the practice of pandering to unreasonable fears of broad mistreatment of Jews at the hands of Christians in America today.

"[N]o child or member of a football team ought to be able (sic) to cringe at the last line of a prayer."
More grammer in torture have never before I seen. Seriously, though, while raised Christian I have often been uneasy with military Chaplains in a non-demoninational setting (e.g. retirement ceremony, etc.) closing a prayer with reference to "our Lord, Jesus Christ." In the context of a pre-game prayer, though, I see it as less an issue of politics than as taste and discretion. However, I also see my wife's position as a Buddhist that "we live in America and most people are Christian, so how else is a public prayer going to end? Namu Butsu?" For her it's not a big deal or seen as an implied threat (see my point above).

"[W]hich religion(s) teach(es) that someone shouldn't spell out the word 'God'?"
It is my understanding that this is a more orthodox practice, especially with very observant Jews. Spelling out the word "God" is likened to taking His name in vain. The use of "G-d" allows written discussion similar to using "the N-word" without offering offense. If I'm off, someone with more complete information please correct me.
11.14.2007 11:54am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
Any party that rejects adopting an opinion about who gets into heaven can be said to "not believe in bars to heaven for anyone."

No, the belief that anyone can get into heaven is:
(1) Still a belief about who can get into heaven.
(2) By assuming there is such a thing, contradictory to the beliefs of atheists.
(3) Contradictory to the beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Wintesses, devout Baptists, or members of many other churches with significant fractions of Democratic voters.

This statement, like Kerry's "joke" about "Study hard so you don't wind up in the arm," is strait out of the pre-internet age, when you could outrageously pander to whatever group you were in front of secure in the knowledge that nobody else would ever hear what you just said.

That isn't true anymore: The Internet is always listening, and the Internet never forgets. That Kerry, the last great old-media candidate would get bitten in the @$$ by that fact was to be expected. That Howard "netroots" Dean hasn't figured it out is a bit more surprising.
11.14.2007 12:01pm
wfjag:
Dear Prof. V:

I find First Amendment discussions interesting due to the complete omission of any reference to the works of the drafter of it, Mass. Delegate Fischer Ames. Ames was a noted educator and theologian, and among other things, gave the eulogy at Pres. Washington's funeral. Current intrepretation of the establishment and separation clauses rely on Mr. Jefferson's letter, drafted over a decade after the Constitution and 10 Amendments were ratified (the First ratified Amendment having been the Fourth proposed Amendment), and at the time of the Constitution Convention, Mr. Jefferson was Ambassador to France. During the ratification debates, I am aware of only two letters written by Ambassador Jefferson that discuss the proposed Constitution -- stating that he would support its ratification if the amendments were also ratified, but, not saying anything in particular about the proposed amendments or if he still supported ratification if the unratified amendments were not ratified. I can locate no published or unpublished case that cites to Delegate Ames' works, and very little mention of them in articles by legal commentators. Granted, the works of Madison and Jefferson are important. Still, that although the Convention's Committee reviewing what became the First Amendment looked at 9 revisions, in the end, Ames' original language was adopted by the Convention and ratified.

I wonder what the reaction would be if someone made a statement based on the eulogy for Washington?
11.14.2007 12:07pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Jehovah's Wintesses are not any fraction of Democratic votes or any votes because they don't vote.
11.14.2007 12:09pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Submandave:
The orthodox definition of taking the lord's name in vain is fairly limited, only to that of uttering falseholds or making false oaths. The prohibition on destroying or allowing the lord's name to be destroyed is taken a bit further.

I thought one of the Dalai Lamas declared Jesus a bodhisattva, though. I'm not really familiar with Buddhist prayer theology: why wouldn't it be acceptable to pray in the name of one?
11.14.2007 12:11pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Ames' language was hardly original. True, they adopted his precise way of wording the clause; however, if you looked at the language that had already been proposed it was nearly identical to the language Ames so moved for and the members ended up adopting. The First Amendment was still more Madison's baby.
11.14.2007 12:12pm
crypticguise:
My question regarding Dean's latest nonsense is "do the Jewish folks who sit around listening to it actually believe this drivel"?

It has always amazed me that as intelligent as most Jews are they still vote the Democrat(ic) line.
11.14.2007 12:12pm
Another Old Navy Chief (mail):
"that there are no bars to heaven for anybody"

Hmmm... Just wait until Satan hears the news...
11.14.2007 12:13pm
byomtov (mail):
"no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe".

We already know from watching the way liberals and leftists run campuses that the assumption that nobody should ever be subjected to hearing views that make them cringe logically implies abolising freedom of speech.


Can you truly not distinguish between "hearing views" and being part of a group that offers a prayer which specifically violates your beliefs?

Let me spell it out. Imagine a Jewish, or otherwise non-Christian player on a high school football team. At the start of every game the coach leads the team in a prayer that ends, "In Jesus' name we pray."

Now just who is the "we" in this sentence? It certainly does not include the non-Christians on the team. They don't pray in Jesus' name. Is it so hard to understand that they might cringe and feel that the prayer excluded them making them not fully members of the team? In fact, this is more likely to be true the more devout the non-Christian is in his own faith. An atheist might, perhaps, shrug the whole prayer off as nonsense, but a religious Jew or Muslim will be seriously offended, and rightly so.
11.14.2007 12:23pm
Gary McGath (www):
As an atheist, I'd have to say that there are bars to heaven for everybody, so I disagree with Mr. Dean on that point.
11.14.2007 12:27pm
David Warner:
"No, Ann Coulter provoked an outcry for stating that her idea of Heaven would be like the Republican National Convention--"...happy...Christian...tolerant..." Which is exactly what Dean was rebutting."

So Dean is saying Heaven will be unhappy...Secular...and intolerant? Does sound like most Dem blogs, come to think of it.

My error of course is conflating the characteristics of some members of the party with the policies of the party itself, which is the same error Dean makes pretty much 24/7.
11.14.2007 12:29pm
David Warner:
"Can you truly not distinguish between "hearing views" and being part of a group that offers a prayer which specifically violates your beliefs?"

As a libertarian member of a mainline Protestant church, I experience the latter repeatedly every Sunday. As a good Democrat, why should I take offense instead of "appreciating difference"? That's not a rhetorical question.
11.14.2007 12:37pm
Cato:
I wish Dean had also mentioned that orthodox Jews don't believe I can go to heaven because I don't perform the 613 mitzvahs.
11.14.2007 12:38pm
MLS (www):
This reminds me of the SNL skit where Nancy Pelosi is giving a speech to reassure people that Democrats are not some far out wackos. "Americans are a religious people, a member of my staff informs me. . ."
11.14.2007 12:39pm
tarheel:

I have to say, this is the silliest issue I've ever seen discussed at this site.

I'd agree were it not for the post earlier today analyzing whether Pedro Martinez is black, Hispanic, or both. Uggghh.
11.14.2007 12:41pm
pedro (mail):
"No, the belief that anyone can get into heaven is:
(1) Still a belief about who can get into heaven.
(2) By assuming there is such a thing, contradictory to the beliefs of atheists.
(3) Contradictory to the beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Wintesses, devout Baptists, or members of many other churches with significant fractions of Democratic voters."

When did Howard Dean explicitly or implicitly endorse the idea that anyone can get into heaven? I, an atheist, heartily reject the proposition P:= "some particular religious communities are barred from entering the Kingdom of Heaven." Such a rejection does not make me a believer.

One may reject P because one holds the theological point of view that Eugene imputes to Dean. One can reject P because one rejects the existence of heaven (vacuously, the statement "there do not exist bars to heaven for anyone" is thus true, in one's opinion). One can reject P because one claims to have no definitive opinion on the matter--and therefore, one does not necessarily endorse the view that anyone can get into heaven.
11.14.2007 12:41pm
Farmer/Lawyer:
I meant to say he's going to Disney World.
11.14.2007 12:43pm
wgsalter (mail):
While government has no business establishing a particular sect as the official American religion, there is a very important value in keeping the tie between between God and the American social compact. Consider: Who would wish to substitute for the existing text, and all that it asserts about natural law and the natural rights of man, "We are endowed by the prevailing political compromises with certain inalienable rights..."?
11.14.2007 12:44pm
devoman:
It has always amazed me that as intelligent as most Jews are they still vote the Democrat(ic) line.

crypticguise: well, think about that for a minute
11.14.2007 12:44pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
Can you truly not distinguish between "hearing views" and being part of a group that offers a prayer which specifically violates your beliefs?

They're obviously not exactly the same thing, but they are related.

Is it so hard to understand that they might cringe and feel that the prayer excluded them making them not fully members of the team? ... a religious Jew or Muslim will be seriously offended, and rightly so.

No, what's hard to understand is "So what?"

Sometimes in life you run into reasonable people who in a thoughtless moment accidentally offend you, sometimes you run into @$$#013s who offend you on purpose. That's free speech for ya. Suck it up, try to talk some sense into them, or offend them back.

Dealing with this sort offense is properly the job of Miss Manners, not the job of the government or by implication the job of any political party.
11.14.2007 12:52pm
David M (mail) (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/140/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...
11.14.2007 12:53pm
PLR:
91 comments, good grief. To hearken back to the first post, this is just Dean bashing, whether the tip came from someone at OpinionJournal or from someone who is actually credible.

I was going to suggest that we annex heaven as U.S. property and colonize it ASAP with Dick Cheney, but I don't know how we'd get him there. Maybe John Yoo has a theory.
11.14.2007 1:00pm
Mark Field (mail):

I'd agree were it not for the post earlier today analyzing whether Pedro Martinez is black, Hispanic, or both. Uggghh.


I was reading the posts starting at the top of the page. I hadn't gotten to the Pedro post yet.
11.14.2007 1:17pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
this is just Dean bashing, whether the tip came from someone at OpinionJournal or from someone who is actually credible.

How could the source of the tip possibly be relevant? Either he said it or he didn't.

And as for it being Dean bashing: I must thank the Democratic party for choosing such an excellent, resilient cornucopia of gaffes to be their party pinata chairman. The only we he could be any more fun would be if he screamed when you hit him.

Now if only we could somehow arrange for a debate between Howard Dean and George Bush....
11.14.2007 1:24pm
PLR:
How could the source of the tip possibly be relevant? Either he said it or he didn't.

That's exactly what I said, it's not relevant.
11.14.2007 1:30pm
byomtov (mail):
Sometimes in life you run into reasonable people who in a thoughtless moment accidentally offend you, sometimes you run into @$$#013s who offend you on purpose.

It's hard to categorize the prayers led by the coach of a football team as an accident. A reasonable person may accidentally offend you. When the offense is repeated, often despite complaints, it's not an accident. So is it OK for the coach to deliberatley offend some of his players?
11.14.2007 1:33pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
That's exactly what I said, it's not relevant.
Then why bring it up at all?
And why the snark about OpinionJournal not being "credible"? If it was their tip, and the tip was good, then they've just earned a credibility point.
11.14.2007 1:35pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
So is it OK for the coach to deliberatley offend some of his players?

That is the sort of issue that should be addressed by school boards, angry parents, and scurrilous locker-room graffitti, not by national political parties.
11.14.2007 1:37pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
When the offense is repeated, often despite complaints, it's not an accident.

If the offense is repeated in the absence of complaints it's still an accident, and the offended person is a wimp.

If it's repeated despite complaints, then yes indeed you are dealing with an @$$#013s, and a football coach at a public school ... but I repeat myself.

The world contains far too many @$$#013s for every one of them to be a Federal case.
11.14.2007 1:41pm
PLR:
And why the snark about OpinionJournal not being "credible"?

I wanted to be snarky because I think they are a contemptible lot.

I try to make my posts easy to understand. Let there be no doubt that I accept the accuracy of the Dean quote in its entirety. The Democrats are not my party, but I think those guys appointed Dean as Chair of the National committee, not as pope.
11.14.2007 1:44pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
I wanted to be snarky because I think they are a contemptible lot.

I try to make my posts easy to understand.


Why do you consider transmitting your views on who is and is not contemptible so important?

I think those guys appointed Dean as Chair of the National committee, not as pope.

Then why is he talking about who gets into Heaven?
11.14.2007 1:49pm
dearieme:
'At the start of every game the coach leads the team in a prayer that ends, "In Jesus' name we pray." ' Forgive a foreigner, but does that sort of thing go on? Seems scandalous to me; probably pretty near blasphemous to the more reflective Christians and such a discourtesy to the heathens.
11.14.2007 1:56pm
PLR:
Why do you consider transmitting your views on who is and is not contemptible so important?

It is not important, it is optional and satisfying.
Then why is he talking about who gets into Heaven?

It would appear he is a party official talking out of school in a mild way, and hardly worthy of four paragraphs from a busy law professor.

I have no doubt Ken Mehlman has said something equally questionable in the last seven days, but there is not an entire cottage industry of media hanging on his every word like there is for Howard Dean.
11.14.2007 2:17pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"You should at least watch the full clips of what she said."

I did, davod--several times, in fact. Leaving aside her ludicrous remark about mixed-race couples, her meaning was clear: That America would be a better place if we were all Christian and Republican, and moreover that the Republican National Convention was entirely Christian in makeup. If you know any other way to interpret those remarks, feel free to make suggestions.
11.14.2007 2:24pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I wish Dean had also mentioned that orthodox Jews don't believe I can go to heaven because I don't perform the 613 mitzvahs.
Of course, that's not really an accurate view of anybody's religious belief. If you're not Jewish, the 613 don't apply to you at all; if you are, they do, but there's no simplistic "get into heaven" rules in Judaism. (Judaism does -- contrary to what some think -- have the notion of an afterlife, but it's not the same as the Christian one.)
11.14.2007 2:30pm
Waldensian (mail):
Thanks to several posters for the enlightenment on the G-d issue. With a handle like Waldensian, I really should know more about these things.
11.14.2007 2:39pm
JohnThompson (mail):
Pedro:

I'm a howling atheist, and I feel orders of magnitude more comfortable with republicans than with democracts, because republicans tend to be much less puerile, all told. How bout them apples?
11.14.2007 2:51pm
The General:
yeaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!
11.14.2007 2:59pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Waldensian: it's basically a bumper guard for the Divine Name.

Cars have a radiator, which is an important piece of the machine. To protect the radiator, manufacturers put a grille over it, to keep out pebbles and rocks and mailmen and other things somebody might run over. But then they had to worry about the grille getting damaged, and started putting on bumpers. But the bumpers tended to get damaged, hence bumper guards. And then somebody (probably a German) started putting leather car bras over the bumper guards.

Give it a few more years, and we'll have car bra cover covers.

In Jewish tradition, the real name of the Big Guy is unpronounceable (which, granted, makes it difficult to take in vain, or otherwise, but I digress), and was sorta-kinda represented by the Tetragrammaton (usually pronounced "Yahweh", by those who like to pronounce the unpronounceable), and referred to by the Hebrew letters that are usually represented by YHWH or a similar combination.

But, that's contaminated by its proximacy to the closer representation of the name of the holy but unnameable, so to avoid using the too-close representation, Jews traditionally referred to YouKnowWho as "HaShem", literally meaning "the Name," as it's thought to be disrespectful to get too close to the original.

Which is why, some thousands of years later, when observant Jews (and not just Orthodox, but many Conservative ones, as well) write down the English word "God", they tend to leave out the o rather than get too close to the English word used to represent the Hebrew used as a reference to the thing referred to by the closer reference. "G-d" is the usual euphemism for the euphemism for the referent to the representation.

I don't make this stuff up, you know.
11.14.2007 3:35pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Oh, and as to Howard Dean? It's basically the Democrat game of "we love you Jews more than they do, demonstrated by our pandering to you on unimportant issues in a clumsy way."
11.14.2007 3:37pm
William Newman (mail):
I'm with Eugene Volokh both on "now I think I understand the message Dean is trying to convey" but it does seem like a revealing misstep. It looks as though Dean is coming in from so far outside an understanding of the electorate that, when trying to blandly reassure everyone, he doesn't realize that he's chosen to profess an opinion on one side of a fault line which splits his wider (national) audience pretty deeply. It's as though he proclaimed at an environmentalist conference that the Democratic Party believes that nuclear power should be strictly eliminated by international treaty, or that the sea level will rise ten feet by 2100. If when aiming for a viable cynical political compromise like "the Democratic party believes that global warming is a great threat, and questions of whether it is literally true that sea level will rise far more than the IPCC predicts are unnecessarily divisive [when we should be uniting against the real enemy!]" you end up picking a divisive side, it seems like a telling accident. The clearest message conveyed by such an announcement, perhaps even to some of those who hold those particular positions, is the unintentional one that you are picking and mouthing a position knowing so little about environmental issues that you don't even realize where significant disagreements divide your audience and your party.
11.14.2007 3:38pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
"her meaning was clear: That America would be a better place if we were all Christian and Republican..."

Well friggin duh!
If she didn't believe the Republicans were the best party she wouldn't be a member. If she didn't think her particular brand of Christianity, whichever one it is, was the best she wouldn't be in it. Most people who really believe in things think it would be better if they could persuade as many others as possible to believe as they do to.

For whatever reason it's considered impolite to speak this obvious truth out loud, but all Coulter is guilty of is violating that taboo, not of believing something in the least bit unusual.
11.14.2007 3:42pm
A simple Jew:
"I wish Dean had also mentioned that orthodox Jews don't believe I can go to heaven because I don't perform the 613 mitzvahs."

That's quite wrong. If you're not Jewish, there are only seven rules to follow. If you are Jewish, you can go to "heaven" even if you violate lots of the 613. Indeed, there is no evidence that any Jew ever kept all 613. Certainly it is impossible to keep all 613 since the Temple was destroyed a few years back.
11.14.2007 4:09pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Well friggin duh!
If she didn't believe the Republicans were the best party she wouldn't be a member. If she didn't think her particular brand of Christianity, whichever one it is, was the best she wouldn't be in it. Most people who really believe in things think it would be better if they could persuade as many others as possible to believe as they do to.

For whatever reason it's considered impolite to speak this obvious truth out loud, but all Coulter is guilty of is violating that taboo, not of believing something in the least bit unusual.


That’s an excellent point and I think that the comparison between Coulter’s rather obvious remarks and Dean’s statement shows a pretty glaring difference in attitudes towards religion. Coulter was asked repeatedly by a partisan journalist whether she thought it would be better if everyone were a Christian which she truthfully answered yes because her faith tells her that you have to accept Christ as your Savior in order to go to heaven.

Howard Dean on the other hand admitted without much prompting that he changed churches not because of a theological difference with their faith but because he couldn’t get them to donate land for a bike path.

IMO that and Dean’s comments that are the focus of Eugene’s post show that he doesn’t really have a serious attitude towards religion. However much he (correctly) said after the 2004 elections that his party had a problem with reaching out to people of faith (at the same time he questioned whether Vice President Cheney was a “real Christian”), I think that the DNC is going to continue having that problem for the foreseeable future so long as their spokesperson on this issue is someone who is seen as not being serious about religion and just sees it as another fundraising tool. In other words – he wants religious people to open the wallets to him so long as they don’t open their mouths also in the process.
11.14.2007 4:35pm
pedro (mail):
JohnThompson: That makes us different in a number of ways. In particular: I may be an atheist, but I do not howl.
11.14.2007 4:39pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
It would appear he is a party official talking out of school in a mild way
It's a pretty minor gaffe, I admit. If not for all the folks claiming it wasn't a gaffe at all this thread would be far shorter.

and hardly worthy of four paragraphs from a busy law professor.
His decision, not yours. Anyway I found it worthwhile for the humor value alone.

I have no doubt Ken Mehlman has said something equally questionable in the last seven days,
And I have no doubt in the existence of the Loch Ness monster.

but there is not an entire cottage industry of media hanging on his every word like there is for Howard Dean.
Haaa hahahahahahaaaa. Ha! Haa ha ha hee hee heeeeee.

Whooo.

Better stop laughing, the guy in the next cubicle is looking at me funny.

Oh yes, the press is always so much more interested in playing "gotcha" against Democrats and gives the Republicans such a free ride.

Dude, you're almost a big hoot as the scream-meister himself!
11.14.2007 4:59pm
Smokey:
It appears that Howard Dean isn't the only one disconnected from reality:
Interesting that we pick apart something Dean says that comes out contorted. How come we don't do that about Bushisms?
[PS- clever snark there, pedro. It's very handy that Christians turn the other cheek, huh?]
11.14.2007 5:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Isn't heaven itself a religious idea? Can anyone who has been there confirm it's real?
11.14.2007 5:16pm
wfjag:
Jon Rowe wrote:

Ames' language was hardly original. True, they adopted his precise way of wording the clause; however, if you looked at the language that had already been proposed it was nearly identical to the language Ames so moved for and the members ended up adopting. The First Amendment was still more Madison's baby.


I'll grant you that Madison is the main architect of the Constitution. However, crediting the First Amendment to him over Ames is a leap of faith (in light of First Amendment jurisprudence, some pun intended). Ignoring Ames completely is not justifiable. However, First Amendment jurisprudence does exactly that.

The real leap of faith comes from relying on Jefferson's letter to the Dansbury Baptists (and, essentially cherry picking from it) to intrepret the First Amendment -- and then, to justify that, going back to Madison's and Jefferson's efforts to eliminate the privileged status of the Anglican Church in Virginia. Virginia was established as an Anglican colony. It was well established in customary international law that when one nation took over territory as sovereign, the existing laws remained effective until the new government abolished or amended them. Upon independence, Virginia went from Anglican colony to Anglican state. The action of the Virginia legislature, led largely by Madison and Jefferson, was necessary to change that. But, to then conclude that their actions in Virginia set a definitive intrepretation of the First Amendment's establishment and separation clauses, largely based on a letter Jefferson wrote over a decade later, while ignoring Ames, the notes of the Committee at the Constitutional Convention, the Convention debates and the ratification debates is (I'm trying to think of a charitable word or phrase here, but "a bait and switch" and similar terms keep coming to mind, and we'd never want to suspect the federal courts of being under-handed in intrepretating the Constitution, or coming up with excuses to rationalize the political agendas of judges and justices, would we? Perish the thought that given the political connections necessary for appointment to the federal bench that all partisan political outlook isn't washed away by confirmation -- so if you want to supply a more charitable description, feel free to do so).
11.14.2007 6:42pm
wfjag:
Yes, I know I should have said "establishement and free exercise clauses" instead of "establishment and separation clauses." I was being sarcastic -- and, realized that I didn't do it well.
11.14.2007 6:45pm
Yankev (mail):
Simple Jew


Certainly it is impossible to keep all 613 since the Temple was destroyed a few years back.

It has ALWAYS been impossible to keep all 613, simply because some apply to different people within the Jewish religion -- e.g. a Kohen cannot fullfill the commandments that apply to a new mother. A Yisroel or a Levi cannot fullfill the commandments that apply only to a Kohen. The command to procreate is binding on men only, as are most time bound positive commands. That's why the Jewish people's relationship with G-d is as a people, and the individual Jew's relationship with Him is as a member of that people. No one of us can do it alone.
11.14.2007 7:13pm
Yankev (mail):
Gattsuru,

I was going to respond to your point about the last line of the prayer, but I see that others have done so.


Politics are one of the many locations where what is good for the goose seldom applies properly to the gander, and vice versa.



Surely you are not advocating discrimation based on gander?
11.14.2007 7:16pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
wfjag:

I agree that the text of the document itself and the history of the debates at the convention and ratification are what should be focused on, not the religion or private views of the individuals involved in the drafting.

I wouldn't focus so much on Ames; he was a very minor player in this nation's history. And in looking this over on the Internet, it seems to be a favorite talking point of David Barton and his pseudo history.
11.14.2007 7:58pm
Pluribus (mail):
Mark Field:

I have to say, this is the silliest issue I've ever seen discussed at this site. It's patently obvious that Dean was making a political point, not a theological one.

I agree. Aren't there enough serious issues to occupy the fine minds here? Of if not serious, then something funny? This is neither.
11.14.2007 8:44pm
michael (mail) (www):
I 'cringe' at Dean's language the first 4 of the 7 lines of which say that Republicans aren't comfortable with there being American Jews. How about Nixon and Kissinger? How about Reagan's last chief of staff? This is a very hostile political comment. In another context, Jewish papers will quote George Wasington's letter to the Jews of New York saying, 'You will be secure in your homes and your synagogues' at the time of the Revolution. Do Republicans try to hide a George W? I would guess that the book 'Friday Night Fights' does not refer to Talmudic discussions, and that what Dean is asking for is that a majority group going into a symbolic battle should not invoke an ideal related to proper behavior because somebody remotely interested in the contest might feel like they are not the quarterback of the team. This is hardly equivalent to not letting Jews into America or heaven. Regarding the Catholic issue, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, commented in 'Truth and Tolerance' that it is presumptuous to decide, in endorsing a faith, that you can tell who G-d will decide to let into heaven.
11.14.2007 9:01pm
AK (mail):
Oh, and as to Howard Dean? It's basically the Democrat game of "we love you Jews more than they do, demonstrated by our pandering to you on unimportant issues in a clumsy way."

An absolutely perfect summary. Had this been the first comment there would be no need for any others. My hat is off to you, sir.
11.14.2007 9:11pm
NickM (mail) (www):
"no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field"

There's no cringing in football!

Nick
11.14.2007 9:16pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Washington actually told both the Jews and the Swedenborgians -- a "Christian" sect with strange doctrines and a heretical understanding of the Trinity -- that the United States doesn't just tolerate them but recognizes their full, unalienable religious rights. This was unprecedentedly liberal for the time.
11.14.2007 9:54pm
Toby:

A very small number of Christians have picked up the habit, as well, although I don't believe it's part of any religious dogma there.

That explains why I have never seen the formulation "Xmas"....
11.14.2007 10:04pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
I am glad that the commenters here (many at least) are taking Eugene's post in the humorous spiritin which (I assume, I pray) he offered it.
11.14.2007 10:28pm
Truth Seeker:
As an atheist, I feel orders of magnitude more comfortable among Democrats than among Republicans...

In spite of being an atheist I vote only for Republicans because I don't care what else Democrats stand for, their appeasement of evil and love of taxes are the last things I want in my government.
11.14.2007 11:58pm
Truth Seeker:
it is presumptuous to decide, in endorsing a faith, that you can tell who G-d will decide to let into heaven

Can it be that is 2007 there are people who think that there is some taboo about writing or saying the name of God? How can that be?
God.
God!
GOD!!!
GOD GOD GOD GOD GOD GOD!!!!!!!
See?
Nothing.
I'm fine
Everyth..
ings..
ju...
...st...
ZT
ZZZZT!!!!
ZZZZZZZTTTTTT............
...
...
...
..........
.
.
.
11.15.2007 12:06am
Randy R. (mail):
Yes, the Republicans are much better with their love of deficits.....
11.15.2007 12:13am
Billy Idle:
I vote only for Republicans because I don't care what else Democrats stand for, their appeasement of evil and love of taxes are the last things I want in my government.

- Medicare Part D
- Bridge to Nowhere
- Trillion$ on pointless Iraq war
- Cozying up to Saudi Arabia
- "And the more I get to know President Putin, the more I get to see his heart and soul" "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul"

How's that working for you?
11.15.2007 3:23am
Bandit (mail):
"This country is not a theocracy," Dean said.

No shit Sherlock
11.15.2007 8:34am
neurodoc:
I am amazed that so many here take "The Democratic Party believes that...there are no bars to heaven for anybody" to be a portentious theologic assertion by Dean. (Maybe he was just trying to reassure his wife, Dr. Steinberg, that she and their children did have a shot at heaven notwithstanding their religion.) Do those who take it as a meaningful statement of eschatologic belief think the same when they hear one person tell another, "Go to Hell?" They would infer that the speaker believes in a Christian version of Hell, rather than it was all about the sentiment, and thus not much different from a "f___ you"?

Slightly OT, but Dean-related: I have been told that Dean was admitted to Albert Einstein Medical College, a relatively competitive institution, under somewhat exceptional circumstances. Circa 1972(?), Einstein tried to have the usual Fall entering class and a Spring one too. The experiment was very short-lived, but less competitive applicants, Dean among them, were admitted because Einstein had many more openings for awhile and took some who might not have been admitted had they come along at a different time. Can't personally vouch for any of this, but it would be another interesting bit of data about the Harvard and Yale alumni seeking the presidency in 2000 and 2004, none of them (Gore, Bush, and Kerry) academic stars. (Anything known about the test scores and undergrad records of Dean and Richardson, yet another Yalie?)
11.15.2007 8:46am
Ken Arromdee:
Do those who take it as a meaningful statement of eschatologic belief think the same when they hear one person tell another, "Go to Hell?"

He didn't make it as an off-the-cuff remark, and it wasn't a figure of speech. You can quibble about whether he was claiming that heaven actually exists, but the basic gist of his statement--that no religious belief gives anyone an advantage in the afterlife--was meant literally.

As noted by another poster, the *real* issue is that with the Internet, it's a lot harder to pander to one group by saying questionable things, without someone else hearing you and questioning it.
11.15.2007 9:10am
visitor:
"none of them (Gore, Bush, and Kerry) academic stars"

Have any of our great president's been academic stars?
Otoh, I remember criticism in 2000 about Bush and Gore's SAT scores, even though they both scored much higher than the average college bound american (and probably higher than the reporters who were criticizing them)
11.15.2007 9:39am
Whadonna More:

Have any of our great president's been academic stars?

Not really, but Byron "Whizzer" White was quite the football star, apropos Dean's cringeworthy prayer wishes.
11.15.2007 9:54am
submandave (mail) (www):
Gattsuru, I've not heard of any claim that Jesus was a bodhisattva, but I have read articles favoribly comparing Jesus with the Buddha. I claim no expertise in either Buddhist theology or liturgy, for one because much of the teachings are esoteric and for another because depending upon which "flavor" of Buddhism you considering is hugely relevent. In Tibet, for example, the practice is more akin to a philosophy than a religion (there are some who will very strongly protest that the Buddha an his teachings never address the question of God or any supreme being). In most countries where Buddhism is widely practiced, though, a great deal of native animist religion has been incorporated. For example, in Japan there are many Shinto influences in the way Buddhism is practiced. As I have seen it, prayers are routinely offered to Buddha or another respected spirit (namu butsu means "Buddha's name").

For clarity, the reason my wife doesn't get bent out of shape about prayers to Jesus is not because she reveres him as a bosatsu. She does respect Jesus and his teachings (even if not the exclusory way some tend to practice the teachings), but can't quite believe the "Jesus is God" thing. The real reason it doesn't bother her is that what someone else prays doesn't matter (as long as they're not praying for you to die or be killed or something).

BTW, thanks for the skinny re G-d. Next time I'll remember to give those who really do know a chance to speak first.
11.15.2007 11:13am
Seamus (mail):

Have any of our great president's been academic stars?



I believe Theodore Roosevelt was Phi Beta Kappa, and before he became president he had published a couple of semi-scholarly historical books.

And Woodrow Wilson earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins.

Of course, you may dispute whether either of them deserves to be called "great."
11.15.2007 11:41am
Annon:
For all those who commented on the use of "G-d", do you know whether the restriction on pronouncing the name of G-d only applies to Jews?
11.15.2007 12:18pm
neurodoc:
I remember criticism in 2000 about Bush and Gore's SAT scores, even though they both scored much higher than the average college bound american (and probably higher than the reporters who were criticizing them).
570's (~1150 combined verbal and math, IIRC, for Gore and Bush. They may be "higher than the average college bound american," but much lower than most of their Harvard and Yale classmates. Only a jock or a legacy (Bush) or child of a VIP (Bush and Gore) would have been admitted to either institution in that era. But Gore was supposed to be the intellectual superior of Bush, as was Kerry, until we belatedly learned that Kerry's academic record at Yale was no better than Bush's. (And Kerry supposedly was no star in law school at Boston College). Don't know, but I expect that Lieberman, another Yalie who was trying for the 1st or 2nd top job around the same time, had an academic record far superior to any of those others. (Anyone know about Richardson or Dean at Yale?)

Should presidential candidates be expected to reveal their school records, as we expect them to come clean about their military records (Bush and Kerry) and health histories (Tsongas)? (I don't think we have reason to doubt those who graduated Yale Law, e.g. Bill and Hilary, Ashcroft, etc.), though do wonder about some Harvard Law products (Alberto whats-his-name). Don't know if it would be of much use, since "smart" ones can prove to be great disappointments, if not full-blown disasters (James Earl Carter).

Since going OT with this, why not go still farther -who are the smartest/dumbest among Dem candidates now (and in the past?) and among Repub candidates? What objective evidence?
11.15.2007 1:55pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Anon: Only Jews KNOW the name of G-d (Actually only the high priest, and he is not telling).
11.15.2007 1:59pm
neurodoc:
I think it laughable to look at what Dean said for its "theological" content rather than taking it as an attack on the Republican Party for its sectarianism.

Now, about the implications of telling someone to "go to Hell" - do athiests have any reluctance to go with this rather than some alternative (e.g., "go f___ yourself") because it might imply that the speaker believed in a Christian version of the afterlife, or any afterlife? Do they ever exclaim in surprise or dismay, "Oh Jesus"? When swearing, do they use "G-d damned" or do they avoid it not because of the blasphemy but because it might be seen as a backhanded acknowledegement of a divinity? As I said above, I think all of this have as much religious portent as such as did Dean's statement about who will get into heaven (even Bush and Cheney?), that being zero.
11.15.2007 2:07pm
wfjag:
Jon Rowe


I agree that the text of the document itself and the history of the debates at the convention and ratification are what should be focused on, not the religion or private views of the individuals involved in the drafting.


I generally concur. Your observation about focusing on the "religion or private views of the individuals involved in the drafting" puts into sharp focus the err in focusing on Pres. Jefferson's private views expressed in the letter to the Dansbury Baptists, since he wasn't even involved in either the drafting or debates. At least the private views of the drafters have relevance when considering the compromises they were willing to agree to. But, taken in isolation or given too much emphasis, is another fallacy of analysis. The words of the document itself, as understood at the time of ratification should be the starting point. However, far too often the words of the document are ignored in favor of some judicial gloss.


I wouldn't focus so much on Ames; he was a very minor player in this nation's history. And in looking this over on the Internet, it seems to be a favorite talking point of David Barton and his pseudo history.


That raises two points. First, people we consider "minor" now frequently were among the more interesting -- and don't carry all the baggage of revisionary histories being written about them as much -- and when they are studied more closely, frequently had much more impact than is initially apparent. A somewhat common occurrence in revisionist historians is to attribute to their favored subject ideas or actions that should be credited to someone now regarded as a minor figure. Before he became a CSA General, Albert Pike was regarded as having the same status as Lewis &Clark. Picking the loosing side and being in command of troops who murdered prisoners tends to dent one's reputation. Aremis Ward is another minor character. Getting in a snit over Washington being appointed Commander of the Cont. Army resulted in his being largely forgotten. Even Aaron Burr has been largely relegated to minor status. Still, it says something of his time that as someone who was widely known as a Free Thinker, he still got more votes than Jefferson or Adams. And, while not a drafter of the Constitution, he was a close associate of several who were, and was accepted by them. But, he shouldn't have shot Hamilton or given his chief political rival (Jefferson) that and going to New Orleans to use against him.

With Ames having been abandoned as a subject of serious scholarship, you're left with people like Barton who cherry pick his writings for their own agendas, without challenge. Cherry picking is also a halmark of revisionist histories.
11.15.2007 2:23pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
For all those who commented on the use of "G-d", do you know whether the restriction on pronouncing the name of G-d only applies to Jews?

As I understand it the actual name is unpronounceable, so the restriction applies to, well, everybody.

I don't know of any Jews who expect non-Jews to write the words down as "G-d". It would be kind of strange if any did.

It's both sound Jewish law and custom that, with very few exceptions, Jewish law and custom are not in any way binding on non-Jews.

The big exception is the Noahide laws -- which, according to Jewish law, are binding on everybody and kind of a very small subset of the 613 -- although there's also the notion that, in a country run under Talmudic law [if, like, there ever is one, and then only maybe] non-Jews would be bound by Talmudic legal decisions on some matters.

As a practical matter, the only time that Jewish custom is considered binding on non-Jews is when non-Jews attend services at a synagogue, where they're expected to stand up when other stand up, sit down when others do, and (in Conservative and Orthodox synagogues and other such religious institutions) men are expected to cover their heads, typically with a yarmulke.

This is considered respectful behavior, and when not adhered to, is generally treated the way rudeness usually is (inadvertent rudeness is politely corrected, with no offense given nor taken; deliberate offense less politely). About the most egregious counter example is the very bad habit of some Orthodox in what are usually called "ultraorthodox" neighborhoods in Israel of throwing stones at women (Jewish or not) who are perceived to be dressing immodestly by O standards. (I'm describing, not justifying; I sympathize with the taking of offense, but not with the throwing stones at folks.)

Other than that, Jewish law and custom is pretty specific that Jewish law and tradition is very much not binding on non-Jews -- hence customs like the "shabbos goy", a non-Jew who is hired to do things on the Sabbath for Jews that the Jews are forbidden to do on the Sabbath. (Lifting stuff, turning on and off lights, and such.) There's no sense that that's a wrong thing on either part, since the non-Jew isn't supposed to not do those things.
11.15.2007 5:47pm
MarkField (mail):

Your observation about focusing on the "religion or private views of the individuals involved in the drafting" puts into sharp focus the err in focusing on Pres. Jefferson's private views expressed in the letter to the Dansbury Baptists, since he wasn't even involved in either the drafting or debates.


I'm not sure what you mean when you say Jefferson was expressing "private views". It was a public letter. Jefferson very clearly intended it to stand as his Presidential understanding of the First Amendment.
11.15.2007 7:34pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Jefferon's status as a "Founder" obviously is more relevant when talking about the Declaration of Independence. He may have been in France when the Constitution was written; but he authored the Declaration.
11.15.2007 8:19pm
MarkField (mail):

Jefferon's status as a "Founder" obviously is more relevant when talking about the Declaration of Independence.


Personally, I think of everyone alive at that time as a "Founder". They were the people to whom the words of the Constitution were addressed and whose understanding led them to accept it. From an originalist perspective (though I'm not an originalist), Jefferson is among those whose reasonable understanding of the text should be relevant. To me, the fact that he chose to make a political issue of the proper interpretation is significant because it suggests that others shared his view.
11.15.2007 9:30pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Mark,

I think you are right. And I would note that the actions and statements of the first 4 Presidents or so are highly probative of constitutional meaning.
11.15.2007 11:01pm
Mikey in Plano (mail):

Nor would it be proper for it to do so: Despite the possible secular implications of this theological question...



What exactly do you think the secular implications are?
11.16.2007 11:37am
Elliot123 (mail):
This discussion about using the name of god reminds me of the rock star Prince's attempt to chage his name to some old Egyptian symbol.
11.16.2007 5:23pm
Elais:

In spite of being an atheist I vote only for Republicans because I don't care what else Democrats stand for, their appeasement of evil and love of taxes are the last things I want in my government.



As an athiest, I vote only for Democrats because I don't care what else Republicans stand for, their appeasement to immigrant haters, gay haters and women haters, and their total pandering to Christian extremists are the last things I want in my government.
11.16.2007 10:55pm