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TAM4 Part 1: Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens blurred his way through the first lecture on Friday morning. He was ill-miked and a bit hard to understand. That said, his speech was very strong and very interesting (if President Bush wants to “teach the argument” in public school science classes, then tax-exempt churches should have to teach atheism too). I guess I’ll have to go back and read him now. I was actually quite taken by his acerbic wit and by his libertarian convictions. I hate it when it turns out I like people I’m used to not liking. That really makes me question a lot of my other calls.

He talked about Thomas Jefferson (pitch for newest book) and the separation of church and state. He noted Jefferson was most bothered by the problem of slavery and by the occurrence of fossils in a ridge near his home (?). Conveniently, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, and they went on to solve Jefferson’s two main problems. Hitchens’ rally cry at the end was ‘Mr. Jefferson, please build up that wall’ where the wall was the wall between church and state defined by Jefferson.


1 comment to TAM4 Part 1: Christopher Hitchens

  • Russ

    I once read that a large portion of the concerns that developed support for “the separation of church and state” was:

    * An extension of the rejection of English rule, including (of course) the Anglican institution
    * Concern among the wealthier property owners in the South about “religious alliances” between New England and the growing “poorer” creeds, Baptists, Methodists, etc. The tolerance of Philadelphia was not only a model, fear of Philadelphia ever succumbing to more radical practices posed a real economic and political worry south of Maryland

    Enshrining “separation of church and state” was a less in-your-face proposition than “keep your religious laws, penalty taxes, and privileges” in New England. It was, initially at least, a way of supporting the status quo. Later it became the legal remedy for promoting tolerance.

    Now personally I will agree that this is a desirable ideal; I believ that there are typically huge economic and cultural benefits for tolerant societies. Plus it makes those socieities more pleasant–and safer–for people like me.

    But as a practical matter I will assert that people support “faith-based” legislative agendas to extend their opportunities for legislative or economic privilege. Since the immediate result of such legislation is the division between “us” and “them”, those “in the faith” and those “out of the faith”, we conveniently know which groups to give money or favorable treatment. If you want to stop this, then the minority faiths have to seek disproportionate political influence–and then institutionalize tolerance when they have achieved that influence. Alternately, a minority with disproportionate influence can keep all of the goodies for themselves like the Sunnis in pre-regime change Iraq.

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