Saturday, 17 March 2007

Twenty Years Ago

3-17-87 Tuesday. A federal district judge in Alabama recently ruled that secular humanism is a religion and that several schoolbooks in use in Alabama are products of that religion. This, he said, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, so he ordered the books removed from the curriculum. Most interesting, to me, is the claim that secular humanism is a religion. Religious groups have been making this claim for many years now, and with good reason. The Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. By insisting that secular humanism is a religion, these groups put it on a par with their own religions and show that the state has established one religion and not others. But the claim that secular humanism is a religion is absurd. If anything, it is the absence of religion! A religion, among other things, postulates the existence of a supreme being and perhaps an afterlife. [Actually, there are atheistic religions, such as Jainism.] It sets out a moral code to be followed by adherents and contains ritual, social activity, and prayer. These are core characteristics of religion. But secular humanism contains none of them. As I say, it’s a negative doctrine, not a positive doctrine. It will be interesting to see how the [United States] Court of Appeals and ultimately the [United States] Supreme Court handle this case. I suspect that the lower-court ruling will be reversed.

To show you how much I dawdle at unimportant things, it was not until 1:41 P.M. that I finished revising my charity manuscript [“Duties, Rights, and Charity”], eating, reading the newspaper [The Arizona Republic], and drafting journal entries. Terry Mallory also called me this morning, so that cut an hour out of my day. By the time I got around to my [preliminary-exam] reading, it was early afternoon. Terry and I argued about the usual things, but spent a good deal of time on immigration policy. Terry thinks of himself as radical and rebellious, but he is a conservative at heart. He opposes unrestricted immigration into this country on grounds that it will lower our standard of living. “Where are we going to put all these people?” he asks. This, I said, assumes the very evil that I oppose: nationalism. Terry thinks in nationalistic terms, or in terms of “us” and “them.” I finally got him to admit that in the tradeoff between our standard of living and the standard of living of those who would come here, he favors our standard of living. It was an interesting discussion. I’m sure that most people in this country think like Terry. They are first and foremost nationalists, and only secondarily concerned with human need.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The following letter appeared in today’s New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re “General Pace and Gay Soldiers” (editorial, March 15):

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, owes no one an apology for stating his personal view that homosexuality is an intolerable immoral act. His is a view shared by a large, mostly religious plurality of military personnel and their families.

Lifting the ban on homosexuals to serve openly would alienate that pool of religious conservatives who have demonstrated a proclivity to serve in the volunteer military. There is zero evidence that eliminating the ban would induce avowed homosexuals to flock to the armed forces.

General Pace has good standing to defend the ban from a military effectiveness point of view as well. There is longstanding evidence that soldier performance in combat is based on unit cohesion—trust and confidence—and readiness.

In 1993, the Army’s surgeon general declared homosexual behavior to be a readiness detractor and further concluded that same-sex tensions in forced intimate situations undermine the unit cohesion necessary for a soldier’s success in combat.

Robert L. Maginnis
Woodbridge, Va., March 15, 2007
The writer, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel, advised the 1993 Pentagon task force that wrote the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Those who would repeal the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” statute seldom (if ever) address Colonel Maginnis’s point about unit cohesion. Maybe cohesion shouldn’t be affected by sexuality, but it is, and given that it is, we must take it into account. The military is not a research laboratory or a clinic. It’s a fighting force. Given the importance of having a maximally effective fighting force, there is a strong presumption against anything that detracts from this mission. I’m not saying that cohesion is everything. I’m saying that it’s not nothing. Ironically, progressives are absolute deontologists on this question. They want the statute repealed, whatever the consequences. Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum (“let right be done, though the heavens should fall”). Most people (rightly) think that the consequences of repealing the statute should be taken into account.

Thomas Nagel on Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, the most prominent and accomplished scientific writer of our time, is convinced that religion is the enemy of science. Not just fundamentalist or fanatical or extremist religion, but all religion that admits faith as a ground of belief and asserts the existence of God. In his new book, he attacks religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument. Dawkins wants both to dissuade believers and to embolden atheists.

(Thomas Nagel, “The Fear of Religion,” review of The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, The New Republic 235 [23 October 2006]: 25-9, at 25)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I read with alarm and dismay that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton stated that if elected president, she would continue a military presence in Iraq, albeit on a smaller scale (“Clinton Says Some G.I.’s in Iraq Would Remain if She Took Office,” front page, March 15).

She justifies this thinking by saying that the United States has “remaining vital national security interests” there, and presumably a complete exit would damage those interests. Senator Clinton goes on to say the remaining troops would not patrol the streets, leaving us in the position of merely observing the sectarian killing.

This was an interview awash in contradictions. Mrs. Clinton correctly believes that the “American people are done with Iraq.” If so, how would a continued, open-ended military presence enable the United States to extricate itself from Iraq?

Would not a continued military presence always raise the possibility of adding tens of thousands of additional troops in the face of unforeseen setbacks? Would not this policy continue this national nightmare?

Charles Apostolou
New York, March 15, 2007

Note from KBJ: The job of the president of the United States is to protect and promote this country’s interests, which include national security. Hillary Clinton, for all her defects, understands this. The letter writer does not. He wants the United States out of Iraq, even if—especially if?—it sets back our interests. How’s that for patriotism?

A Year Ago