Atheism as Religion in Law, Cicero Lives

religionThis is the time of year where my get and go has done got up and went. Demotivation from work stress, increasing cold, and short days makes it difficult for me to even know about, much less achieve, the many things to be done. This spirals into depression where self-criticism rules and it becomes difficult not to see fault in near everything, and to feel how near everything really needs to change to make the world and me better.

That this midterm election was perhaps the most important one since Eisenhower didn’t help. The growing trend towards conservatism makes it worse in my case, since I have few leanings towards it anymore. That Obama has spent less money than any president since Eisenhower, as reported by Forbes, doesn’t help. One reason is it’s a bald-faced lie to say Obama has been the biggest spender in history and another is the recovery would have occurred faster and better if Obama could have injected money into the work force and created incentives for businesses to relieve their hoarding. Not to mention less tax relief for the uberwealthy.

Cicero’s brother wrote a little book “How to Win an Electiontelling Cicero to basically promise anything, appeal to the privileged, flatter all,  surround yourself with support, be a chameleon, and accuse opponents of sex scandals. This perhaps apocryphal book almost seems like a parody right down to it being written by a scoundrel brother to a politician that promoted honesty, virtue, and restraint. Yet, Cicero, in his later works speaks of ambition, ruthlessness, and temptation as constant motivations in his life. Note that Karl Rove recommended this book on the cover of Freeman’s edition but Garry Wills blasted the book for being disingenuous to real politics. What do you think? It seems the practice of honesty is a virtue only if you’re surrounded by like minded people…

Much like including atheist displays on public property as equal time with religious displays, a Federal District court allowed an atheist prison inmate to form a a humanist group.

In a decision issued Thursday, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that prison officials violated inmate Jason Holden’s constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments, and moved to recognize secular humanism as a religion for “Establishment Clause purposes.”

This seems like a victory, a big victory. Especially since prisons use religions so strongly that there are virtually no atheists in prison. Which doesn’t necessarily mean there are no atheists in prison but you aren’t allowed to be one.

The case, co-filed by the American Humanist Association, marks a victory for secular groups seeking access to the same legal rights afforded to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims — all of whom are permitted to organize under the current federal prison system.

Making humanism, secularism and atheism religions does disservice to their definitions but it also supports the idea that specific social justice issues, or morality, are part and parcel of these groups–far beyond revealed or not. It also means the government lists approved religions for personal rights.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Haggerty cited a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, which referred to “Secular Humanism” as a religion in its landmark decision to prohibit state and federal governments from passing any laws that impose religious requirements on holding public office.

“The court finds that Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” Haggerty, a Bill Clinton appointee, concluded on Thursday. “Allowing followers of other faiths to join religious group meetings while denying Holden the same privilege is discrimination on the basis of religion.”

The only way to defend against the insistence of religious-oriented support legally is to call them religions. There are no phrases like philosophy, world-view or social moral code in this kind of law. Everyone is a group, much like zero is an amount or baldness is a hairstyle. All of which are true in some ways. It sidesteps the real misuse that government shouldn’t be in the religion business.

I suppose it is a wedge which allows the presence and acknowledgement of secular interests, but it only fuels fire to the idea that atheism is competing with religion in morality, when many atheists don’t want any specific morality included in the package–they just don’t want to be preached to or do theological therapy.

For now this is how it must be as a political tactic but I find it troubling and wonder if it won’t cause problems in the long run. It takes away from the point of a secular public space that allows religious tolerance. It gives credibility that atheism and theism are just two peas in the same pod.

It will be interesting to see secular groups spawn and form their own groups much like local, regional, and national churches. I wonder how the system will handle them when they want their own brand of support?

Jim Newman,

About Jim Newman

Jim Newman is a philosopher. When I was young I wondered what was the ultimate truth. How should I behave? What makes it all work? I was intensely curious to know what it all means. It was enlightening to realize there is no ultimate truth, but nevertheless sufficient and necessary turth, and that meaning was a meta analysis of living one’s life. In this sense my work has been living large. Living and experiencing life has made me learn many things. Building boats, motors, houses, electronics. Raising animals. Teaching. Writing. Photography. Drawing. Knitting. Sewing. Cooking. Music. Painting. Hiking. Aboriginal living skills. All material aspects of reality that seem irrelevant until you realize they allow you to experience more. My epiphany came when I read Christopher Hitchen’s “Letters to a Young Contrarian” and I felt vindicated in my many meals of sacred cow.
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