State religion

It's Sunday, but instead of complaining about George Will's complaining–we'll do that tomorrow maybe–let's just read Michael Medved and marvel:

Actually, there’s little chance that atheists will succeed in placing one of their own in the White House at any time in the foreseeable future, and it continues to make powerful sense for voters to shun potential presidents who deny the existence of God. An atheist may be a good person, a good politician, a good family man (or woman), and even a good patriot, but a publicly proclaimed non-believer as president would, for three reasons, be bad for the country.

Hollowness and Hypocrisy at State Occasions. As Constitutional scholars all point out, the Presidency uniquely combines the two functions of head of government (like the British Prime Minister) and head of state (like the Queen of England). POTUS not only appoints cabinet members and shapes foreign policy and delivers addresses to Congress, but also presides over solemn and ceremonial occasions. Just as the Queen plays a formal role as head of the Church of England, the President functions as head of the “Church of America” – that informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones. For instance, try to imagine an atheist president issuing the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. To whom would he extend thanks in the name of his grateful nation –-the Indians in Massachusetts?

Well, he probably ought to thank the Indians in Massachusetts, but that's another matter.  The more basic point is this: last time I checked, there is no "Church of America," so that analogy does even rise to the level of weakness.  Solemn occasions are somewhat like church–you can't get up and go to the bathroom, you sit or stand watching a podium where someone talks–but that's about it.  Besides, if those things make something "church," if only analogously, then as one who talks somewhat ceremoniously to a group of people who may or may not have to go to the bathroom, I'm a priest. 

52 thoughts on “State religion”

  1. Jem, thank you! That may be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, honestly. You’re a diamond in the rough. To me, you’ll always be a gem.

    BN, thank you for reading. If I may briefly answer your questions — if, that is, the good jcasey will indulge me one final time here before I exit from beneath these garish lights forevermore (if not, jcasey, please feel free to delete my comment, of course) — the quiddity our nature is conceptual, or in Aristotle’s terms “rational.” Man, he said, is the rational animal. Therefore, survival is the goal, yes, but since we are conceptual, survival for man is not primarily physical; it’s psychological and epistemological: “Man spends the majority of his life inside his own head,” as John Milton said. Happiness — or, again in Aristotle’s words, eudaimonism, which he equates with agathon (“flourishing” and “the good,” respectively) — is the ends, yes, but it is not the means. The means are morality. And survival, in the fully human sense of the word, is the standard. Why existence? Because the only alternative to existence is non-existence. But there is no nothing. “Existence exists,” said Aristotle, “and only existence exits.”

  2. Gee Miss Priss,

    Thanks for dropping by. But you seemed to have Aristotle confused with someone else. Survival, as Aristotle points out in the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, isn’t the goal. The human goal, rather, is, as you put it, eudaimonia. Besides, Aristotle never said, to my knowledge, “existence exists.” I’m unaware that Aristotle had a notion of “existence,” let alone one which “exists.”

    Miss Priss has kindly pointed out that I have perhaps misread her remark about survival. It was her view, not Aristotle’s, she was espousing. Many apologies to Miss Priss for that.

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