"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Democracy v. Religious Fundamentalism

Daniel Dennett in WaPo:

This week’s question could not be more important. Events around the world in recent years amply demonstrate that the religious freedom we enjoy in the United States is one of the essential building blocks of our democracy.

What we tend to lose sight of, however, is the price we must pay for this religious freedom: we must commit ourselves to the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state even when the principle works against the interests of our particular religion.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This wise maxim, applied to the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state, has permitted the principle to drift into disrepair. People are encouraged to think that while there may be all sorts of borderline cases and vexing conundrums about just where to draw the line, examining them will only arouse anxiety and discord--so let’s just cover everything with a fine fog of pious, presumed consensus. We all honor the First Amendment and that’s that, and that’s fine. So it would be, if it weren’t for the steady pressure of those who would exploit our benign neglect, encroaching gradually on what makes the principle work–to the extent that it does.

For instance, the Christian conservatives in the country who wish to declare that this is a Christian nation are becoming bolder and bolder in their willingness to impose their own viewpoint on those who disagree. Fortunately, there are the beginnings of an organized resistence to this takeover, such as the Interfaith Alliance, chaired by Walter Cronkite. I enthusiastically support this effort, even though I am myself an atheist. Atheism is one of the live rails of American politics-touch it and you're toast. Fair enough. Those are the current facts of life. Not so long ago, you couldn’t be elected if you were Catholic, or Jewish, or African-American. But shouldn't we install another live rail, on the opposite side of the religious spectrum? . . .

The rest here.

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