Monday, July 14, 2008


For real, yesterday. I led worship at church and delivered a sermon on church and state plus a bit on the state of our church. I posted it on the seldom-updated, rarely read church blog. It includes much of my take on church/state and may be something I refer to from time to time on the topic.


Sheila said...

Well done! I especially concur with

"What we lack is the ability to disagree, and be disagreed with, and remain a loving community." . . .

. . . "Maybe we need to try less hard not to offend and more hard not to be offended."

Thanks for sharing :)

Eric said...

So, after eliminating the evils of pan-protestantism in public education, what will take its place? Hedonistic materialism leading to the belief that free market choice in education is a right?

If this morning's headline was "Ellery Schempp and the UUs successfully jump half-way across the Grand Canyon," how would you expect me to feel? When might the other half of the job get done?

Finally, while we in the Unitarian Universalist Church are in a unique position to model the respectful diverse religious community we would like our nation and our world to become, we have not done so.

You might also explore the boundaries for using public education to confront the religious beliefs of schoolchildren and their families.

Eric said...

The neutrality principle embedded in the Constitution is different from European style secularism, in subtle but real ways.

If you elaborate in ways accessible to high school students, you might be suprised with the allies you find on the State Board of Education. Last I checked, they were in charge of ensuring Ohio schoolchildren learn (uh, are taught) the principles of democracy and ethics.

Be sure to include how ideally neutral school governance would address Hunter's Civic Biology during the Scopes timeframe. Dershowitz's position seems lacking:

"All in all, Bryan did quite well in defining his position, and Darrow came off as something of an anti-religious cynic. The law was on Darrow's side, although it took more than half a century for the Supreme Court to vindicate his position. But the primitive and misapplied evolution taught by John Scopes was neither good science nor good morality. The censorship dictated by Tennessee's antievolution law was not the proper response to the dangers of teaching high school students the kind of racist rubbish contained in the textbook used by Scopes. Religion does indeed have its proper role in constraining the misapplication of science, but not in the classrooms of public schools."

Mencken said...

"Is Genesis incredible? Does it go counter to the known facts? Perhaps. But do not forget to add that it is divinely simple - that even a Tennessee judge can understand it".


Eric said...

I think these quotes summarize the perspectives nicely; I don't know why we would promote Mencken's perspective in a publicly funded classroom, though.

Bryan was a lifelong populist who, motivated by the horror of World War I, became Darwinism's chief adversary in the United States. Throughout the early 1920s he attacked Darwin's theory of the "brute origins of man" as anti-Christian (because he believed that it taught that progress came from brute force, not love), anti-Democratic (because he thought that it taught that might makes right), and anti-progressive (because it he believed that Darwinism suggested that inborn biological and not social factors determined human qualities).

H. L. Mencken's favorite targets were Christianity and socialism both of which he detested for similar reasons. Mencken viewed the human race rather pessimistically. The many were stupid, irrational, lazy, lacking in ambition and envious of those who succeeded. Only if natural selection were allowed to work its ways in a competitive, acquisitive market order was there any hope for the betterment of humanity. Since socialists proposed to eliminate both natural selection and basic capitalist institutions, their programs, if enacted, would only make things worse. Mencken, like many of the other conservative Social Darwinists tended to overlook the fact that laissez-faire capitalism, too, aimed at massive social reconstruction only it endorsed different means for achieving it.

Mencken said...

Telling a child who thinks that 7+7 = 16, isn't confrontational, it's educational.

That pan-protestantism is 180 degrees from material hedonism is as bad and unprovable an equation as 7+7=16.

Anonymous said...

So what are we selling when we promote public education? Must we dismiss politically incorrect opinions and resort to an insipid marketing slogan:
America's Public Schools--
They're GREAT

Or can we articulate an educational philosophy which taxpayers will support?

If not pan-Protestantism, then what? Materialistic Hedonism (and self-medicating for depression) didn't work so well for Harris and Kleybold at Columbine. What page of the "Dictionary of Educational Philosophy" (or some such title) will I find a description of what parents and taxpayers seek in their schools? Or are educators just making it up as they go along?

Eric said...

I've not asserted that pan-Protestantism and hedonistic materialism are antipodal. I've only observed that hedonistic materialism is waxing as pan-Protestantism has waned under legal attack. People cite these events as reason to abandon public education.

A course in "educational foundations" (or some such title) is common in ed schools. Surely there are names for the various educational philosophies covered in such courses. Perhaps there are even case studies of implementations describing the philosophy's impact on school climate. Maybe even cost-outs--or is Ohio's General Assembly expected to make a guess at costing out education and turn over a check to educators for implementing whatever educational philosophy they choose?

And aren't communities supposed to be able to exercise local control--creating community support and positive school climate by adopting an educational philosophy they can afford to implement?

(Sorry for the typo in the anonymous post above; that post is mine.)

Pho said...

Eric and Menken:

Two of my favorite commenters having this much fun without me? May be enough to bring a disaffected blogger back into the game.

Rolling back to your first comment, E. I wouldn't say that pan-Protestantism is evil, but government-compelled religious devotion of any sort is. That's what the Warren Court cases dissallowed.

What will replace it? The wish is neutrality. That is, a safe place for children of all creeds to learn reading, writing, math and science.

The one issue that you like to harp on -- teaching of evolution -- presents the one thorny point because some religious sects read evolutionary theory as disproving the existence of God and, wishing to retain their belief in God, they choose not to believe evolution.

The problem is that evolutionists have actual facts to bring to the debate. Creationists (whether or not in their ID sheeps clothing) have either made up facts or gaps in evidence, and nothing more.

So we have two difficulties. One is, it's impossible to teach science the way the Creat/ID crowd wants because it's not really science. So respecting religious difference in that way is not an option.

The other is that the anti-evolution side isn't really interested in equal time, though they say. For that matter, they aren't even interested in pan-protestantism. They are interested in using the mechanism of state to proselytize for their narrow view of Christianity.

How do we accommodate such diversity? Admittedly that is a difficult question. But let's start by framing the question accurately.

Eric said...

I wouldn't say that pan-Protestantism is evil ...
Nor did you. I was exagerating for effect. When Catholic students brought their own Bibles to pan-Protestant schools, shooting broke out. So Catholics built parochial schools. Both systems thrived. I'm just making the point that it's not enough to pick a fight and win in court. Institutions fundamental to democracy need to be sustained.

Warren Court cases dissallowed.
So if opponents can't impeach Earl Warren, they can at least defeat school levies. So much for sustaining institutions fundamental to democracy. Again, half way across the Grand Canyon is a lousy time to go AWOL.

What will replace it? The wish is neutrality.
How about American Pluralism, distinct "from European style secularism, in subtle but real ways." Of course, we'd want to include that among the "Principles of Democracy and Ethics emphasized and discussed wherever appropriate in all parts of the curriculum for grades kindergarten through twelve."

one issue that you like to harp on -- teaching of evolution -- presents the one thorny point
It's not harping so much as constructive provocation. (This would be less constructive: "Q: How many Barack Obama Supporters does it take to decide to treat Fundamentalist Christians with respect?" "A: Zero; Anything more than Barack himself and they're embarrassed to be seen walking Obama's talk." That's why I see Obama's supporters in that New Yorker cover...)

... So respecting religious difference in that way is not an option.
So we find another way to be respectful. The starting point ought to be "We've listened carefully, and here is the best we can do without violating the Constitution."

they aren't even interested in pan-protestantism.
Nonetheless, we're obliged to produce a legal alternative to pan-Protestantism, and its acceptance by Fundamentalist/Evangelicals would be one indicator of it promoting sustainability. Doing everything we can think of to promote public education and respect for teaching as a profession--wouldn't Governor Strickland appreciate the effort?

They are interested in using the mechanism of state to proselytize for their narrow view of Christianity.
Regardless of who "They" may be, most Ohioans expect neutrality in public school curriculum. Given the difficulties with equal time, "teach the controversy" or "academic freedom" approaches, a philosophical resolution of the dilemma would be appropriate. How might we avoid "dividing major portions of the community?" How might such a plan be communicated to Heather Heslop Licata? Or will Akron's State Board member just ignore public comment she is unprepared to address:

"In the areas of faith I do not want the State of Ohio or the public school system advocating philosophical theories hidden in science that contradict or insult the faith I impart on my children. When the Board of Education advocates for the theory of evolution by giving it the status of required learning then the board is acting to divide major portions of the community. This split is evident by the flight of children to alternative schooling."

From your sermon, Pho, it sounds like Akron's Unitarians are too divided among themselves to be of much assistance to Ms. Licata. Nor does it sound like Bob Garbe is as interested in proselytizing as you suggest.