April 02, 2004

The Atheist's Religion Class

by Chris Geidner

Some fun writing and great insights on Newdow in this piece by The New Republic’s literary editor. First, Leon Wieseltier’s writing:

Why do the God-inebriated opponents of the separation of church and state in America, the righteous citizens who see God's hand in everything that Fox News reports, insult the Founders by revising and even rejecting their God?

This was a crisp, caustic, and clear distillation of the contradiction many saw in the argument supported by the Bush Administration and others that the “under God” was, in effect, not religious at all. How can anyone be expected to take the position of this Administration—which wants to fund “faith-based” charities and has made religiosity a centerpiece of much of its work—at face value when it says it is defending the “under God” language in the Pledge as merely “descriptive” (and not an invocation)?

Another great insight about religion and morality:

The distinction between religion and morality was championed by religious thinkers in all the monotheistic faiths, who worried that religion would be reduced to morality. Now we must worry that for many Americans morality is being reduced to religion.

Wieseltier goes on to make clear that he see Newdow—the atheist—as the most appreciative of the value and power of religion in American life. He writes about one of Newdow's most moving engagements with the Court at oral argument:

[Justice Breyer] posed an extraordinary question to Newdow: "So do you think that God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive, and if it is, then does your objection disappear?"

Needless to say, Newdow's objection did not disappear, because it is one of the admirable features of atheism to take God seriously. Newdow's reply was unforgettable: "I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' which is exactly what I think. I deny the existence of God." The sound of those words in that room gave me what I can only call a constitutional thrill. This is freedom.

The article—with its thorough understanding of what Newdow says about American life—is one of the best things I’ve read in TNR in years.

April 2, 2004 03:03 PM | TrackBack

Wow, that TNR article was amazing.

Posted by: Nick Morgan at April 2, 2004 03:39 PM

That was an extraordinary article. When I read bits & pieces from that brief submitted by various religious scholars--arguing that the Govt's 'descriptive' interpretation of 'under god' then means schoolchildren across america are taking the lord's name in vain--i found that an especially interesting argument, and it will be fascinating if conversvative folks like, say, Scalia might bite, and indeed, if he can even be considered principled at all if he doesn't. likewise, if he can perform some mental gymnastics alongside Teddy Olson to pretend 'under god' isn't a religious invocation contrary to their plain & obvious meaning, given his strict dedication to the text & intent (which, here, was to show our difference from the godless communists).

Thanks for pointing it out!

Posted by: Visible Hand at April 2, 2004 05:11 PM

Scalis recused himself from the Newdow case.

Posted by: Anthony 2 at April 2, 2004 05:35 PM

Obviously, but I guess I meant in the aftermath of whatever decision is reached. I'm also thinking of not-particularly legal conservative commentators like O'reilly, etc., and also more generally the federalist society crowd. i didn't make that too clear tho.

Posted by: Visible Hand at April 2, 2004 06:22 PM

Leave us Federalist Society folks alone you meanie!

P.S. - I stopped reading that article in the first sentence when they whipped out Kierkegard (I'm not even going to bother to spell check that one). I guess I'm too dumb to tolerate references like that.

Posted by: Brian at April 2, 2004 10:36 PM

Sorry, Brian, but Wieseltier has been TNR's lit crit forever. This was outside his usual, and he succeeded with ease. He wrote a Supreme Court report for his crowd -- not for the law folk. And he did it remarkably well.

Posted by: Chris Geidner at April 3, 2004 02:50 AM
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