[FoRK] Re: nb: politics ~= religion

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Fri Feb 13 10:42:10 PST 2004


On Feb 13, 2004, at 11:27 AM, Aaron Swartz wrote:

>> That is, when he says "To compel a man to furnish contributions of 
>> money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and 
>> abhors, is sinful and tyrannical" --- even though the context is a 
>> discussion of religious freedom, given the larger context of 
>> Jefferson's life, is there any good reason to think he would've 
>> disagreed had the word "political" been inserted before "opinion?"  I 
>> seriously doubt it, but that's just my opinion.
>
> The whole context of Jefferson's speech is that we need to keep 
> politics and religion separate! To loosely translate, he says:
>

Missing the point, and the argument is getting very, very unclear.

> "Because each man decides his own religious opinion, and forcing him 
> to pay for the propagation of another is wrong, as is even forcing him 
> to pay for religious leaders (which would take away market incentives 
> from those leaders as well!), and because our civil rights do not 
> depend on our religious opinions, we therefore conclude that requiring 
> a citizen or politician to profess or renounce a certain opinion 
> deprives him of his rights and corrupts religion itself through 
> bribes. The religious opinions of men are not the object of 
> government, when government gets involved it destroys all religious 
> liberty.

No offense, but that's not only putting words in Jefferson's mouth, 
it's basically logical gobbledygook;  but let's try to parse out the 
important pieces:

(1) each man has a right to his or her own (independent) (religious) 
opinion
(2) forcing him agree with (or to pay for the propagation of) some 
other (religious) opinion is wrong
(3) our civil rights do not depend on our (religious) opinions
(4) requiring someone to hold a particular (religious) opinion is bad
(5) requiring someone to hold a particular religious opinion corrupts 
religion
(6) requiring someone to hold a particular (religious) opinion destroys 
(religious) liberty

You're basically saying that (1 & 2 & 3) -> (4 & 5 & 6)

I think that's a pretty egregious confusion of entailments.

1 and 4 are the same thing;  1 -> 4 is a tautology.
1 and 6 are very close to the same thing;  1 -> 6 is a tautology.
3 is a novelty.  We'll come back to that at some later point.
You're missing the fundamental implication, which is what he explicitly 
asserted:  1 -> 2.

Basically, all you've done here is restate the same thing several 
times, throwing in the explicit word "religious" wherever possible in 
order to apparently reinforce your point.

Per the civil rights issue, here --- think about the implications and 
get back to us.  Are you claiming that to the extent civil rights might 
depend on religious opinion, we are therefore justified in coercing 
people to pay for the propagation of religious opinion that they 
disagree with?  (Consider reproductive rights...)

Sticky, sticky, sticky.  Be careful...

> Obviously this would not make sense if "religious" was replaced with 
> "political" -- the whole point of a democracy is to require that 
> politicians and citizens profess and renounce certain opinions. 
> Jefferson is clearly saying we should separate these political issues 
> from religious issues -- issues of belief which "each man decides" for 
> himself.

ABSOLUTELY NOT!  (a)  Democracy *does not* require that politicians and 
citizens profess or renounce certain beliefs;  it merely requires that 
they agree to abide by the will of the majority.  And for that matter, 
Jefferson was well aware of the problems of democracy, and indeed that 
in large measure is why we are a constitutional republic rather than a 
democracy:

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses 
its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the 
foundations of society. "

> Jefferson is clearly saying we should separate these political issues 
> from religious issues

What Jefferson clearly and forcefully said --- that you are going to 
great and unconvincing links to make as obscure and weak as possible 
--- is the following, again:

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation 
of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."

It's really very simple, very elegant, very non-offensive, and robust 
independent of the context you're trying to draw from.

The fact that it occurred in the context of a discussion about 
religion, philosophy, and politics (and their intersection) does not 
imply a non-existent adjective to reduce its scope for your rhetorical 
purposes.

jb



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