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  • My own mind is my own church

    Posted by Sulaiman on April 9th, 2005 (All posts by )

    -Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11: Written during the administration of George Washington and signed into law by John Adams:
    “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

    -Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moore, August 14, 1800:
    The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, & ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”

    to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813:
    “History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.”

    -Tom Paine:
    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    Of all tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.

    Amendment I of the United States Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    By going to John Paul II’s funeral George Bush may not have broken the supreme law of the land but he has shown disrespect for one of the most cherished liberties of our nation, a liberty that trumps every virtue that established religions stand for today. History will make its own judgment on JPII and I do not deny the fact that he was a decent and charismatic leader who put human dignity above all socio-economic systems, particularly Soviet communism. However, JPII did not take a stand against communism to defend the empire of liberty. His motivation was to preserve and expand church’s authority over a social system that had foolishly declared war against religion. Vatican only found out about religious tolerance and human dignity when it was no longer able to extend its interest by force, as it had for centuries, and had to start competing with other religions in a secular free market.

    GWB represents all of America – an incredibly diverse nation thanks to its secular institutions – when he travels abroad. To vast majority of Americans who do not subscribe to the Catholic church’s brand of spirituality GWB’s action was disrespectful, if not an insult. Perhaps, the president should have sent a personal representative instead of flying aboard Air Force One.


    P.S. Here is a British take on the same subject — It’s as if the Reformation had never happened


    57 Responses to “My own mind is my own church”

    1. LotharBot Says:

      As an American who doesn’t share much at all with the Catholic church, I think Bush’s action was the most respectful thing in the world. For all the criticisms I have of the Catholic church, you have to admit, JP2 was absolutely one of the most important leaders of our time, and one of the greatest unifiers of our time. The last 3 US presidents (Bush Sr, Clinton, W) recognized that, which is why all 3 were there.

      It would be an insult if Bush had personally attended the funeral of Yasser Arafat… but JP2? The Pope spent much of his time fighting communism, and most of the rest of it building bridges between Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others. Those who fail to recognize that might be offended — “how dare he endorse Catholicism”, you might be thinking. But those who actually know JP2’s history will recognize that Bush was continuing JP2’s legacy of tearing down barriers between people. You need not be Catholic, or even particularly agreeable to Catholicism, to be glad for that.

    2. Chris Says:

      “..but he has shown disrespect for one of the most cherished liberties of our nation, a liberty that trumps every virtue that established religions stand for today…”

      Sorry Sulaiman…but you are completely wrong on this issue. Like many you do not grasp the seperation of church and state clause and believe that the clause prohibits government officials from practicing their religion or even openly supporting religious figures. It does not.

      The entire reason for this clause was the king’s church which was the forced state religion in england which led to the persecution of many people….it is only there to prevent the US government from doing the same thing, nothing more. It is not there to prevent presidents from expressing their is not there to prevent the appearance of a religious symbol on any public grounds whatsoever…

      I am not a religious person, and I am in fact squarely against the idea of organized religions, BUT it still irks me that so many others who either feel the way I do about religion or otherwise, misinterperet the seperation of church and state clause. They are merely intellectually dishonest for the most part. They like the part of Ammendment I that suits them, but that second icky part about prohibiting the free exercise thereof….which includes those in government. Not to mention the fact that the Pope was a very solid ally in the fight for Poland, despite what you may think about him and he is the head of a foreign state, to which the president is perfectly within his bounds in attending the funeral of.

      As for the Catholic Church’s “brand” of sprituality..i find it hilarious the number of christians I talk to who are not catholic and seem to take exception at catholic teachings, that the catholic church is the original “brand” of christianity and they are merely spinoffs..that annoys many of them to no end…

    3. lindenen Says:

      Word to Chris. Word to everything you said although I’m pretty confused by the last sentence. As a lapsed Catholic, I’ve never heard anyone claim the RCC is the original brand of Christianity like it’s Coca Cola and Protestantism is Pepsi. So odd, to my mind.

      The Pope is the leader of a sovereign nation called Vatican City. As well, the Pope was incredibly important in the fight against communism. Imagine the US government ignoring the death of the leader of a sovereign nation who had been a very important ally in fighting communism just because he was a religious leader. That would make no sense. It would be based on bigotry against religion plain and simple.

    4. lindenen Says:

      “His motivation was to preserve and expand church’s authority over a social system that had foolishly declared war against religion.”

      How do you even know this? What is this based on? It doesn’t reflect what I’ve heard of the Pope’s own statements. This statement seems based on your having a serious gripe with Catholicism, not anything the Pope ever said or did. And I’m not sure it’s at all wrong for the Pope to want many of the people who are members of his religion to be free individuals instead of victims of the Soviet Union death machine.

      I don’t think that British article supports your position on the matter, other than having a gripe with Catholicism.

      “Even so, it is hard not to catch one’s breath at the rupture with national history that all this represents. Ours is still, after all, legally established as a Protestant nation. Until very recently the mere idea that a prime minister or the head of the Anglican church might have any kind of dialogue with Rome – never mind rearrange the next Protestant king’s wedding to suit the cardinals in Rome – would have been regarded as close to treason. Catholicism, in its time, was as anathema to the British state as communism was in a later era. Five centuries ago we broke with Rome so that a king could remarry. Today our re-embrace of Rome means that a future king’s remarriage has to be postponed.”

    5. Richard Heddleson Says:

      We also granted the first honorary citizenship to a subject of the King against whom we rebelled and who said he had not become Prime Minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire which we had initiated and which he proceeded to do.

      This is also an immensely important domestic political statement. The Republican party has historically been the more Protestant party. Bush hopes to attract many Catholics, especially Hispanics to his party permanently. Unlike Ms Toynbee, who relishes living in the dead conflicts of a half millenia ago, Bush’s presence says to American Catholics that they are welcome in the big tent he seeks to fill.

      At the same time, I hope the attendance of the U. S. President at the funeral of the Pope does not become de rigure. This Pope’s contribution to the defeat of Communism, for whatever reason, makes him a unique political character, warranting the honor he is receiving as an individual.

    6. HA Says:

      Of all tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.

      Those words were obviously spoken before Marx.

      More on topic, your criticism is absurd. GWB is paying respects to a great man. He is not secretly plotting to establish Catholicism as the state religion. Can’t you scrounge up a more realistic bogeyman?

    7. ed in texas Says:

      OK, let’s face it. Attendance at ANY funeral is symbolic. Now, if GWB had used the occasion to have a press conference and announce an aid package to Vatican City like say, the 60 billion or so they’ve shipped to Cairo (or Tel Aviv for that matter) Sulaiman might have a valid point. There is a persistant tendency in some quarters to attribute negative motives to anything GWB does, and it comes across as paranoia. And as far as the British press’s reaction, I thought we had a little group discussion 200 years ago, to the result that their opinions were deemed irrelevant (Justice Kennedy notwithstanding).

    8. Lex Says:

      Millions of Americans are Catholics. Hundreds of millions of people abroad are Catholics. The Pope was a very influential leader of that community. The President shows no disrespect to anyone by attending the Pope’s funeral. The idea that the American government is required to be hostile to religion is wrong. The phrase separation of church and state occurs in none of our founding documents. The Government may not establish a religion. This was meant at least as much to protect religion from government as the other way around. The Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, recognizing the importance of religion and that its free exercise is a basic right. Your personal hatred of Catholicism is your private business, it is not an obligation of the US Government to act in accord with it.

    9. Fritz Meyer Says:

      Pope John Paul II carried out reconciliation with other faiths as prescribed in Vatican 2. Your criticism of historical Catholicism is no longer warrented. The fact that a President of the US could attend a funeral at the Vatican, leaders of Israel and Iran, and many Arab leaders all gathered on the same dais was impressive. My hope is that this image will resinate in the Muslim world and perhaps beg the question, would people of the world show such admiration to leaders of our faith? It reminds me of John Locke’s insistence that tolerance is acting in a tolerant manner, but that tolerance does not extend to Catholics, because they are not tolerant. The Pope’s “do not be afraid” now extends to Catholicism. The Catholic Church represents nothing more than a path for those who believe in the divinity of Jesus to eternal life. Take it or leave it, we no longer wish to impose our doctrine upon your governments, but we expect Liberty for all people giving them the capacity to accept or reject it.

    10. Prashant P Kothari Says:

      I agree with Sulaiman. JP2 may have been a decent and charismatic leader, and he’s to be commended for his role in the toppling of communism (which role, by the way, I think is way overstated). However, as Sulaiman says

      JPII did not take a stand against communism to defend the empire of liberty. His motivation was to preserve and expand church’s authority over a social system that had foolishly declared war against religion. Vatican only found out about religious tolerance and human dignity when it was no longer able to extend its interest by force, as it had for centuries, and had to start competing with other religions in a secular free market

      Many non-Christian Asians were extremely queasy about the Pope’s vision of Asia as the great untapped frontier for the Catholic church.

    11. Fritz Meyer Says:

      Are you queasy about Catholicism or is it a queasiness of foreign ideals, when presented, may change the power structure of Asia?

    12. mishu Says:


      That’s like me saying I’m queasy about George Harrison and his opinions of Hinduism.

      “I see Hinduism as a religion eminently suited for all lands and for all people…”

    13. Ginny Says:

      Well, no one can miss the sentiments of the comments and I, too, agree. America was founded by and continues to be led by people with deep respect for religion – including others’ religions. John Adams was not Catholic, but appreciated the service he attended. Benjamin Franklin wasn’t religious but gave generously to the churches in his community and argued for the building of churches.
      Minor point: Paine did say it, but I’m not sure that Paine needs to be seen as expressing the founders’ (or anyone other than Paine’s) beliefs. Almost all of the comments clearly have to do with establishing a church – I thought most people’s complaints about Bush was that he was “too Protestant.” The other two presidents are also Protestant. This was hardly bowing the knee to an America being taken over by a priest-ridden culture.

      It is nice, however, to see Sulaimain post and wish he would do it more often. It is just that we all would see intolerance in not going; we see mutual respect as underlying real freedom of religion.

    14. Tyouth Says:

      Suliman’s views in his post strike me a wrong headed in a number of ways.

      The value of JPII’s in 20th century as a human- example, a political, and a religious leader are made by many people and in many places; I won’t take this up.

      S suggests that GWB “may not” have broken any supreme laws which insinuates that he “may” have broken some law? Pray tell, what law is that?

      S refers to some “cherished liberty” that “trumps ever virtue of established religion” (what super-liberty is this?….. freedom to worship or not as we please, I guess) This is balderdash since clearly the moral education of founders lead to the values they incorporate into the US Constitution.

      It seems that S believes in the “living document” argument concerning our constitution wherein: “shall not establish a religion” doesn’t mean “shall not establish a religion”.

      S belongs to a group that believes “shall not establish” means “shall not promote a religion”, “shall not teach a religion”, at least, and most in this group hold that government and represntatives in government “shall not make reference to religious values”.

      S is wrong and judiciary that misinterpret the establishment clause are wrong. If the establishment clause is too limited, it should be changed legally and not twisted into some new shape.

    15. Sulailman Says:

      Chris – “Catholic Church’s “brand” of sprituality .. that the catholic church is the original “brand” of christianity” – I think the Orthdox Church has a different take on this.

    16. Shannon Love Says:

      When Billy Graham Senior dies you can bet that the setting President and all the living ex-Presidents will attend his Funeral. Graham has visited the White House of every administration since Johnson. He has been described as the “spiritual advisor to the Presidency” i.e. the advisor to the office not the individual. Does this state of affairs violate the principle of separation of church and state?

      The US has sent a representative to funeral of every Pope for at least the last 100 years. It is usually the Ambassador to Italy or the Vatican. The Pope is a temporal head of a tiny but extant secular state. (Remember the contretemps back in the early 80’s when the Vatican opened an diplomatic embassy in Washington? Jerry Fallwel thought that was a violation of separation and wanted to open a Southern Baptist embassy.) That creates a loophole in the separation issue. Technically, the President is attending the funeral of the secular ruler of the Vatican mini-state, not the funeral of a religious leader.

      Unfortunately, today secularism is used not to create neutral ground where people of differing faiths could meet and work out the practicalities of running the temporal state but instead is used to drive people of faith from the public discourse altogether. It privileges the non-religious over the religious in all political matters.

      This state of affairs is not what the Founders had in mind and is not supported by the first 150 years of constitutional law.

    17. Lex Says:

      Sulaiman, let me second Ginny’s comment that it would be good to see you post more often — even, as here, where I disagree with you. The Boyz and their backbenchers are showing here the ability to have a civil disagreement, an exercise worth engaging in from time to time.

    18. Ginny Says:

      Shannon’s last paragraphs are perceptive. I wonder how much increases in relatively evangelical churches in the last decades has arisen from taking a stand against the broad secularization of our society. If the president is Catholic at Billy Graham’s death, he/she, too, will attend. The secular attitude (e.g., the French laws against scarves & crosses & stars of David) toward tolerance appears to be “don’t ask, don’t tell.” As any gay private would tell you, that isn’t real (or respectful) tolerance.

    19. timmah! Says:

      Sulaiman: You found some founding fathers who hated all organized religion, and some who merely shared the Catholic-hatred of protestant England. Now you have all the moral authority of a bunch of slave owners! Don’t spend it all in one post, and remember, it’ll never be more than an appeal to authority.

      Looking past your exertion of dubious third party moral authority in the service of casting doubt on moral authority, let’s examine your ideas. Disrespectful to the vast majority? Care to show that the vast majority feel deprived of respect?

      Can you distinguish between making one religion the law of the land, and simply paying respect to the better elements of our common religious impulse? You may not feel that impulse, or perhaps you nourish it in private; evidently many people feel it in some form or other (religion seems pretty common in human societies) and they share it with others. Many such people have improved at tolerating other faiths since the eighteenth century, and shouldn’t that be encouraged in a pluralistic society?

      So even if the Vatican (care to define that term?) is late to the show, at least they came: good of you to acknowledge that this pope defended some degree of human dignity and religious tolerance. Will you share in that defence by granting people, even public people, the right to honor religious persons, perhaps even ones with less perfect moral vision than you?

    20. GUYK Says:

      I have no problems with Bush attend the funeral-the Pope was a head of state and head of a state that generally supported the USA against communism, or at least Soviet style communism.

      For that matter I have no problems with government leaders expressing their faith in god-any god of their choice. It is their right to do so just as it is my right to be a deist. However, I will argue when the religious right wing of government pushes to hard.

    21. Steve Says:

      Sulaiman, you have to understand Bush’s visit as a political move. It was not governernmental.


      The pope holds great powers totally out of proportion with his office’s position and intellectual rectitude. But that is besides the point. What matters, is that the pope holds great powers.

      In connection with our nation’s relations with, say, Italy, if you want to win the hearts of Romany, you must show appreciation for its Popes. To court the evangelical Southern vote, you must show appreciation for its Popes. To stand a chance of converting the Russian Orthodox Church’s followers, you must cow-tow to its Popes.

      This is not a violation of the rulings you wisely quote. It is one meer political tactic of a wise, and winning, political machine, the American Republican Party.

    22. Chris Says:

      “…that the catholic church is the original “brand” of christianity” – I think the Orthdox Church has a different take on this…”


      They can have any take they like…as Getty Lee once sang “You can change perceptions, but reality won’t budge”

      “…Roman Catholicism is the only Christian religion that started during Christ’s time. All other Christian religions stemmed from it. The name “the catholic church” first started in the year 107 when Ignatius of Antioch used the title to describe Jesus’ church. The term was old even then so it was probably known in the apostle’s time. Catholicism has four main qualities. They are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
      Catholicism is the oldest Christian religion in the world….”

    23. Says:

      On President Bush And Pope John Paul II

      Over at Chicago Boyz, Sulaiman complains that Pope John Paul II took a stand against communism purely to further the interests of the Catholic Church,…

    24. Jack675 Says:

      It wouldn’t bee seen as unseemly if Bush were to attend the funeral of the British head of state, the queen. Indeed there wouldn’t be any discussion whatsoever. Well, guess what, the queen is also the head of a religious sect. It’s just that hers happens to be a Protestant one. I must say (as a non-Catholic non-Christian) that the spectre of anti-Catholicism does still, on occassion, rear its ugly head.

      It’s simple good diplomacy for the American president to attend the funeral of this rather prominent head of state. A head of state who whose “state” is home to a billion people. A head of state, who, one must also add, was often (though not always) closely allied with American goals.

    25. LotharBot Says:

      Shannon, you continue to demonstrate why you are one of my two most favorite writers (my wife is the other.)

      On the topic of which church came first:

      While it’s true that the term “catholic church” was first used within just a couple generations of Jesus’ death, it’s misleading to claim that as a reference to the Roman Catholic church. The term “catholic” meant something along the lines of “universal” — so talking about the “catholic church” was speaking of the whole church, in contrast to talking about some local church body. The RCC used the same name, but that doesn’t make them the same church.

      The Roman Catholic church formed a couple hundred years later. They and the Orthodox church split off from each other, and neither can really claim to be the “original” church. Both came from PARTS of the original church. Each had power over a particular geographic region of the church, and both did some things right and other things wrong. One branch applied the name “Catholic” to itself, while the other applied the name “Orthodox”, but neither has a legitimate claim to be the original; the original church contained the groups that later became both. To claim that either one of those is “the” church, and that the other is an offshoot, is ignorance of history. (From what I recall, there are also other, smaller church groups that have existed for just as long, though possibly under different names.)

    26. MC Says:

      I am not in any way Catholic, yet I am quite happy that my president chose to represent me and my country at the funeral of a great man, influential foreign leader and, yes, a pope. I care not one whit for the Sulaimans of the world who just can’t resist pissing all over anything even vaguely connected to ‘evil’ religion.

    27. Mike Says:

      “To vast majority of Americans who do not subscribe to the Catholic church’s brand of spirituality GWB’s action was disrespectful, if not an insult.”
      Are you suggesting that GWB is disrespecting his own protestant (Baptist, I believe) brand of spirituality?

    28. Ginny Says:

      Methodist. Parents Episopalian. Wife Methodist. (Bill Clinton was, I believe, a Baptist and his wife a Methodist?) Carter was famously Baptist (that one I’m very sure of).

      The sermon at my Presbyterian Church deep in Texas on Sunday was in praise of Pope John Paul. Perhaps John Knox is spinning in his grave, but no one seemed offended and I doubt very much that many if any there would agree with much of Catholic theology or rituals. People are complicated and can be seen from many perspectives–we don’t want to two-dimensionalize others because we don’t want to be two-dimensionalized ourselves.

    29. Sulaiman Says:


      GWB is a Methodist but a politician by occupation.

      He went to Rome to score political points back home. My problem is with short-term political gain at the cost of long-term institutional loss. You have to realize that organized religions of the world are, by their very claim to be the ultimate truth, at war with each other. I find this undemocratic, unscientific, and against the very idea that America stands for — religious tolerance. I am not too sure if the Catholic Church is fond of “multiple and contradictory truths” being openly discussed in a public forum. And if they could put and end to an open discussion and impose their “only truth” on the people, they would do it as they did for centuries. It is only within the bounds of secular institutions that religions have become civilized. Otherwise, they are nothing but the worst form of tyranny.

      And in response to other who cited JP2’s help in fight against communism, let’s not forget that those with whom we were allies throughout history do not necessarily share our values. Stalin is probably the best expample but most recently, the Wahabi brach of Islam as represented by the Saudi royal family comes to mind. As a Muslim, I would be outraged if GWB went the funeral of the guardian of the “Holy Mosques”.

    30. lurker Says:

      You have some serious issues. Are you really analogizing John Paul II with Stalin. I beleiveable!

      I hearby declare this thread closed.

    31. Lex Says:

      Sulaiman represents a position which is shared by many people, which I believe is seriously wrong. First, that the United States was founded as a country which was shaped by the anti-religious values of the Enlightenment, and so any evidence of religiosity in public life or among politicians is somehow a betrayal of this heritage. His citations to Paine and Jefferson, who were closer to this view than most of the other founders is consistent with this. Like many people who are attracted to this reading of our national history, which is only viable if you omit many, many countervailing facts, he also has a hostility to religion as practiced today. Like many other people, Sulaiman describes the Catholic Church as part of a heritage of tyranny which led through modern times to the totalitarian state. Again, this is a serious misreading of history. Still, George Orwell seems to have believed this, and Eric Hoffer, too. Ironically, it is part of Protestant America’s founding heritage to demonize the Catholic Church in this fashion, a practice inherited from England, where a core elment of their national identity is opposition to “Rome”. I suppose some day I should write a long post rebutting Sulaiman’s assumptions and citing to historical sources. That may be a long wait. In the meantime, as a starting point, I would suggest reading Lord Acton’s two essays, “The History of Freedom in Antiquity” and the “The History of Freedom in Christianity.” These show that the history of freedom is mixed up with Christianity in a much longer and more interesting and complicated story than Sulaiman seems to believe in. (Both of these can be found here if you go to authors, then click on Lord Acton, then go the History of Liberty and other Essays.) David Gress’s book From Plato to NATO also deals with these issues, though I confess to only having read the first 69% or so of that one.

    32. LotharBot Says:

      “He went to Rome to score political points back home.”

      Wrong. He went to Rome to honor one of the greatest leaders of our time (as did his father, and Bill Clinton.) Political considerations are secondary.

      “You have to realize that organized religions of the world are, by their very claim to be the ultimate truth, at war with each other. I find this undemocratic, unscientific, and against the very idea that America stands for — religious tolerance.”

      This is the key to your misunderstanding. You believe religions are undemocratic, unscientific, and intolerant, and therefore incompatible with democracy, science, and tolerance. But your beliefs do not match up with reality. There certainly are religions that are like that (*cough* Wahabi Islam *cough*) but Catholicism, especially under John Paul II, made huge progress in all of those areas. Witness JP2’s work in Poland (democracy), statements on evolution (science), and reconciliation with Protestants, Jews, etc (tolerance). By measure of the very virtues you bring up, JP2 deserved immense respect.

      I can’t fathom how any rational person could be so completely backwards on this issue. Are you certain you’re as tolerant as you’d like to believe?

    33. Ginny Says:

      I do not think that the major reason Bush went was political – he has no more elections to win himself. I believe it was respect–one of the fundamental characteristics of American democracy.

      The quotes you chose have to do with “establishment” of a sect, not respect for different ones.

      You remark “I find this undemocratic, unscientific, and against the very idea that America stands for — religious tolerance.” I would reiterate, real tolerance comes from respect and appreciation of our differences, not from pretending that we aren’t different from one another.

      The use of “unscientific” to describe religious belief is a concept that misunderstands the separate realms of religion and science. Science seems to be expected to take the role of reason in a quite French way. That is not how Americans look (or looked) at reason or at science.

      Shannon drew distinctions in an earlier post between those who truly understand and appreciate evolutionary theory and those who want to use it (in a quite unscientific, inconsistent, and unmethodological way) to hit others over the head. Gertrude Himmelfarb and Michael Novak (and countless others) have traced the importance of religion, common sense civility, etc. to the founders. And to note the level of respect: America has traditionally been Protestant, but Himmelfarb is Jewish and Novak Catholic. Previous post.

      Anecdote: On a McLaughlin Report (I know, why do I watch it): Eleanor Clift remarked that “science won” in the Schiavo case. She continued, she was sure the autopsy would show Schiavo “brain dead.” Since a variety of tests of science hadn’t been conducted on her brain, that argument seemed weak. More importantly, I doubt that few scientists would find this smug contention attractive – no matter what their position might be on the constitutional questions nor the quality of life ones.

      I suspect Eleanor Clift is no scientist. And I have trouble understanding how showing respect for other’s religious beliefs, let alone a person of John Paul’s accomplishments, is “unscientific.” As Lex observed above, the twentieth century is replete with deaths from leaders who rejected religion and sought to be “scientific.” They appear not to have learned from the French Revolution and its nineteenth century ramifications. Rather than tolerance, those leaders showed the rawest and most violent of intolerances. It would be good if the twenty-first century could learn from the twentieth, even if the twentieth didn’t from the nineteenth.

      An approach to the universal human trait of religious interests is The God Gene.

    34. GUYK Says:

      Ginny, I believe it was respect also. But maybe not so much of respect for the Pope but respect of the power of a billion catholics worldwide. Think of the outroar if he had not attended. The country already has image problems in Latin Ameria and failure to pay homage to a dead Pope would have given the media a field day both domestic and in Latin America. From this standpoint I would say it was a good political move whether it was intendedto be such or not.

    35. Mike Says:

      “You have to realize that organized religions of the world are, by their very claim to be the ultimate truth, at war with each other. I find this undemocratic, unscientific, and against the very idea that America stands for — religious tolerance.”

      It is odd to say that organized religions or their truths are against religious tolerance. While this may be true in particular cases, the clear majority of religions in America espouse religious tolerance. (Tolerance isn’t necessarily acceptance or validation; it is peaceful co-existence.)

      Democracy is a political mechanism by which political decisions get made. (For example, which methodology is used to count people in a census is a political decision amenable to democracy; the actual number of people in a country is not.) Many churches are organized along democratic principles with the members voting on issues. Saying that becuase religions espouse truths makes them undemocratic is odd–one wouldn’t make the same comment about the scientific community. In both areas, some decisions are amenable to the democratic process and some aren’t, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that religious (or scientific) organizations are inherently ‘undemocratic’.

      Moreover, science and religion can only be viewed as incompatible by the irreligious. To a believer, the universe is God’s creation. (And doesn’t science talk only about theories and not about truths anyways? ;) )

      Anyways, thanks for the good discussion and the correction on GWB’s denomination.

    36. GUYK Says:

      Mike, maybe. But the Hebrew and Christian Old Testament is full of religious intolerance and god’s commandments to kill. Although I believe the Crusades were more about economic than religion they were fought in the name of religion. And part of the slaughter was Christians slaughtering christians. The christians were definitely organized in Europe when they decided that burning non-believers at the stake was the thing to do. Not all that long ago in America’s history puritans were hanging witches. I just don’t see a history that religion has much tolerance. Catholics and protestants fighting in Ireland. Israelis and Muslems fighting in the Palestine. Christians in the USA dictating their agenda and trying to make end runs around court dcisions. You betcha, a very tolerant bunch!

    37. Tyouth Says:

      Guyk says “not that long ago puritans were hanging witches”.

      I disagree with you…that was a long time ago if you consider the passage of time in conjunction with the progress of the human race. That was 15 or so generations ago. In that time knowledge (for the sake of argument that factor, knowledge, is indicative of our progress – others factors could be used) doubled in the first 4 generations from that time, it quadrupled in the first 8 generations from that time, 10 times the knowledge in the first 12 gen, and finally 25 times the knowledge in our time. That was a long “time” ago.

      Culture and individual behavior hasn’t increased at the same pace but it has changed at an ever increasing pace so I think you can say that was a long time ago and we have changed a lot.

      BTW, (going out on a limb here, perhaps) there is a trend of decreasing intolerance to be seen over time with respect with religious-sponsored movements. Consider the decreasing mass violence of the Crusades, the inquisition, and witch hunting.

      Palestine is a political question with only a religious undercurrent, I mean it’s about land isnt’ it?

      Don’t know what “end runs” around court decisions have to do with intolerance. Care to expound?

    38. Anonymous Says:

      Lex, Ginny & LotharBot – I am surprised that you see religious tolerance as anti-religion. I am also surprised that you are positioning me as a protestant. FYI – I am Muslim no fan of 700 Club. I have never attended a Protestant service but I have been to Catholic services on numerous occasions.

      As for the Catholic Church itself, I have no problem with them as long as they abide by our laws. In fact, I think most of the charity work they are doing – such as work in inner cities & prisons, schools, etc. – is for the good this society. My wife (also a Muslim) is a product of a Catholic liberal arts college and my father taught in a Jesuit university. I also have no problem with the clergy trying to PERSUADE their parishioners how to lead their lives.

      My problem, which I think you have overlooked, is when our political leaders kowtow to a single denomination, which I believe is disrespect for the spirit of the 1st Amendment, if not a clear violation.

      As for JP2, I think you are overstretching the comparison with Stalin. I never compared him to Stalin — my point was that we should not confuse alliance against a common enemy with friendship. We only have a permanent interest – defense of the United States and its Constitution – not permanent alliances which George Washington clearly warned the nation against. I personally respected JP2 although I did not agree with much of his social views but what is important here is that the Church itself is much bigger than JP2. Much has been made of the history and tradition of the Catholic Church. We should not take this important point by the supporters of the Church lightly because the history of Cathlicism by their own measure is longer than JP2 ( … killed more Christians during the Crusades as it was mentioned above). The Catholic Church is here to stay after JP2 and only God knows what kind of a posture it will take towards America in the future. We cannot hedge all our bets on only one pope.

      I want reiterate my point: The Catholic Church discovered religious tolerance and human dignity only when it realized it could no longer force its dogma by force. As such, too much flirting with the Church by our political leaders (for whatever reason including “winning hearts in Latin America”) is something to be suspicious of. It is not good for our political institutions and it is not healthy for the development of the Church itself either. This is not an anti-religious, Robespierrian (or Marxist) view of the world – it is common sense that religion has been a tool of the clergy throughout history for personal gain. Please do not confuse the interest of established clergy with religious beliefs/God. After all, it was Jesus who paid with his life after he exposed the abuse of religion by those who claim to know the word of God.

    39. Sulaiman Says:

      Apologies – the post above is mine.

    40. Stevely Says:

      Sulaiman, did you get the bits posted above about the Pope being an actual head of state? I think that rather settles the issue don’t you?

    41. LotharBot Says:

      “I am surprised that you see religious tolerance as anti-religion.”

      I don’t see tolerance as anti-religion. But I do see refusal to honor a great leader for the simple fact that he’s a religious leader as anti-that-religion. This is expecially true when you consider that JP2 did more than just about anyone else in history to promote tolerance between different religions. Refusing to honor him because of his religion would be supremely intolerant.

      “I am also surprised that you are positioning me as a protestant. FYI – I am Muslim…”

      When have I ever claimed otherwise?

      “My problem, which I think you have overlooked, is when our political leaders kowtow to a single denomination”

      My problem is, simply put, that you misunderstand what Bush is doing. You think he’s kowtowing to a single denomination, but your thought is wrong. He’s honoring the legacy of a man who, as a religious and political leader, advanced such ideals as tolerance, freedom, and democracy across much of the world. Had there been a Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist leader who advanced those same ideals as effectively as JP2, I have no doubt Bush would’ve attended that leader’s funeral as well. It’s not about kowtowing to the Catholic church — it’s about honoring a great leader.

      You act as though the president attending JP2’s funeral was a signal to the Catholic church that America will bow before them and that they can push us around and become more intolerant. Hardly! If anything, it was a signal to them that they should follow in JP2’s footsteps and continue to seek reconciliation to those of other religions. Honoring JP2 is not a signal that the government is giving power to the Catholic church; it’s a signal that JP2’s legacy was overall pretty good and that we should carry on that legacy of promoting freedom, opposing oppression, and reconciling between people of religions. That’s a pretty good signal to send, isn’t it?

    42. Ginny Says:

      I suspect that this derives from quite different definitions of “kowtow,” “science,” and “tolerance.” I didn’t think any of us thought you were a Protestant, sorry if I implied that. So, perhaps we can never really agree.

      Those of us that argue with you take pride in the fact that our founding fathers encouraged religions different from their own and still, for the most part, believed even fervently in their own. We don’t think reason or science are at odds with belief but rather deal with a different sphere. We see respect; you see a “kowtowing.” But, of course, we see our tradition as proving the worth of the way we look at things. The Puritans and the witches is clearly a sideshow of rather small proportions and if Tom Delay is a bit irritating, the Schiavo divide cut across ethnic and religious sect lines. It was hardly an imposition of a particular religion on the country – it may have attempted to bend the constitution to a religious “feeling” but that is different.

      You look at history – and certainly Europe’s bloody wars during the Reformation as well as today’s jihadists – lead to a more fearful vision. Religion has, if you view it from a long distance, a civilizing influence and one that leads to fewer rather than more deaths. In the short term, of course, we see blood.

    43. Sulaiman Says:


      It is not exactly a normal state, bound by a constitution such as ours. Religious dogma is the foundation of Vatican. You may also want to find out when Vatican recognized the emergence of Italy as a republic … not a pretty picture.

    44. tim Says:

      I want reiterate my point: The Catholic Church discovered religious tolerance and human dignity only when it realized it could no longer force its dogma by force.

      When was that?

      My problem, which I think you have overlooked, is when our political leaders kowtow to a single denomination, which I believe is disrespect for the spirit of the 1st Amendment, if not a clear violation.

      The presidents in question have honored a number of religious leaders. Googling for various religions and “white house”, here are some links:

      –“Bush has offered his strong support to the Dalai Lama…”:

      — “A White House Chanukah”:

      — “President Bush hosts Muslim Leaders at White House”:

      — “Historic Moment for the Hindus at The White House”:

      Okay, maybe these are cheesey photo ops, but is going to the pope’s funeral still kow-towing to a single denomination? Looks to me like Bush is trying to make people of many religions feel welcome in America, not deliver us to the Inquisition.

      it is common sense that religion has been a tool of the clergy throughout history for personal gain.

      Good point. If your claim is that Bush going to John Paul II’s funeral is “too much flirting with the church”, that is out of proportion with that point.

      Your preference for statements about “the Vatican” and “the Catholic Church” over the doings of individuals seems ahistorical. Why not confine discussion to the actions of particular people? Depersonalization is a powerful rhetorical tool to demonize “them”. A great way to promote civil discourse is to avoid even the appearance of demonizing the adherents of a religion.

      You recite offenses committed by individual Catholics, and lay them against “the Catholic Church”. Fair enough as long as you attribute the good done by Catholics to the church. To do otherwise might promote the (surely false) notion that one simply hates Catholics, and that would put an advocate of religious tolerance in a strange place, no?

    45. Mike Says:

      I never meant to suggest that there are no examples of religious intolerance. As you pointed out, history is full of such examples and such behavior continues to this day. My point was directed towards Sulaimen’s too broad statement that organized religions are against religious tolerance. This is by-and-large not true. Many religions will say that the others are full of it, or that non-believers are going to Hell but almost none advocate violence. Many participate in inter-faith activities. A vigorous exchange of ideas is not intolerance.

    46. Lex Says:

      “it is common sense that religion has been a tool of the clergy throughout history for personal gain.”

      Terribly, terribly wrong. There are countless examples of selfless sacrifice by “clergy” and others on behalf of Christianity over two thousand years of history. The reason that Catholicism was able to spread during its early centuries, and during most of its life in most places, was that people found it attractive and were drawn to it. Christianity has been very unsuccessful at forced conversion, and that has not been its main model of conversion. There have been corrupt clergy and saintly clergy throughout the world in various places and times. To make a generalized statement like this is a vicious faleshood. This statement is simply bad and misleading history.

      If you want to understand the world, you need to look at the facts as they are. I disagree with almost everything else Sulaiman has written, again as bad and inaccurate history, but I’ll stop with this.

    47. Geoff Says:

      Don’t forget that, apart from leading the Catholic Church, the Pope is the Vatican’s head of state too, i.e. a national leader.

    48. TM Lutas Says:

      On the “original brand” point, the Catholic Church teaches that it is apostolic, that is, it was present at the miracle of Pentacost when the christian church was founded. It is one of the few churches in christianity to do so and it is historically pretty much a slam dunk case that it is properly described as an original brand.

      Orthodoxy is also an original brand. No educated orthodox or catholic fight over this as both sides have long ago agreed that both are apostolic churches. Non-apostolic church members do sometimes bristle at the newcomer label and for good reasons which I will not go into here.

      To declare that the Catholic Church has only discovered human dignity once it could no longer force compliance, as the original article did is a gross distortion of history. That force was inappropriately used in the past by the Catholic Church is a historical reality, something that the most recent Pope apologized for to the world and to many specific groups that Catholics had offended.

      It would have been charitable to recognize the strides this Pope made to heal old wounds. It would have been historically accurate to recognize all the examples of Catholic respect and work on the subject of human dignity and not to slip into easy smears. Think about the history of the Franciscans, for example, and you will see how badly the original slur misstated reality.

    49. Massud Says:


      Don’t forget that, apart from leading the Catholic Church, the Pope is the Vatican’s head of state too, i.e. a national leader.

      Technically yes he maybe but that is besides the point here. I dont think Bush went to pay his respects to the Vatican’s head of state. He paid his respects to JP2 as a pope.

      Prince Rainier III – Monaco, did Bush attend his funeral, or will he?

      I dont think justifying Bush’s visit to the Vatican as paying respect to the head of state is a viable argument here.

    50. Chris Says:

      “..Prince Rainier III – Monaco, did Bush attend his funeral, or will he?..”

      No..but Prince Rainier wasn’t quite the ally against the communists that John Paul was….

    51. Sulaiman Says:

      Chris – I see … so Bush would attend the funeral of Saudi princes (and/or other Islamic fascists) because they were allies against communism?

      Let’s be clear minded about this. We have a permanent interest in this world which is defense and preservation of the United States and its Constitution. The US had its reasons for fighting communism, the Pope had his. This, however, does not necessarily mean that both shared the same vision after communism was defeated. Allies come and go but we should not confuse alliances with friendship. As far as I know George Washington clearly warned the nation against European style permanent alliances.

    52. LotharBot Says:

      “so Bush would attend the funeral of Saudi princes (and/or other Islamic fascists) because they were allies against communism?”

      Probably not, no — because, once you go beyond their being somewhat weak allies against communism, you find very little else good about Saudi princes and other Islamofascists.

      Once you go beyond JP2 being a very strong ally against communism, you find that he also worked toward a number of other very honorable causes, such as religious tolerance and reconciliation. Unlike the Saudi princes, who were on the side of civilized humanity once and no more, JP2 has been on the side of civilized humanity in the vast majority of what he’s done. There are still things he did that I disagree with, but overall, he did an amazing amount of good and very little evil. To compare him to the Saudi princes is unreasonable.

    53. Jonathan Says:

      Sulaiman, it is in the nature of alliances that neither side shares all of the goals and values of the other side. If they did, they would be closer than any real allies have ever been.

      JP2 was strongly and very effectively on our side in the most important ideological conflict of the post-war period. That’s good enough for me. It was a bonus that he was also a genuinely decent and liberal man, that he was considerate of the Jews, that he was on our side in various smaller ways. I disagreed with some of his positions but on balance he did a great deal of good and I think that he deserves to be honored.

    54. Steve Says:

      Johnathan, you may see John Paul II honored in the most powerful way that our Judeo-Christian culture knows.

      He may be cannonized.

    55. Jonathan Says:

      As a non-Christian, I take no position on JP2’s standing within his church or on his suitability for sainthood. As an American, I think it’s appropriate for W and other national officials to pay their respects on our collective behalf.

    56. Massud Says:

      As an American, I think it’s appropriate for W and other national officials to pay their respects on our collective behalf.

      Goes back to Sulaiman’s comment…

      What if as an American, I DONT think it is appropriate for W and other national officials to pay their respects to religious leaders and in fact am offended by that.

      The US’s founding ideal was the principle of individual rights. Nothing more and nothing less. What America produces now, both tangible and intangible, is the logical consequence of fidelity to that one principle.

      When US government officials travel abroad, it is exactly this philosophy that they champion and try to export. In Sulaiman’s words: GWB represents all of America and represents the US – an incredibly diverse nation thanks to its secular institutions – when he travels abroad.

      Therefore, ideally, Catholic representatives in the US should be at the funeral, not the president of the US. Ideally, the US government should be in the business of safegaurding this principle.

    57. Jonathan Says:


      W’s attendance at the Pope’s funeral was no more an endorsement of Catholicism than is W’s participation in candle-lighting ceremonies on Hannuka an endorsement of Judaism. In both cases W is paying respect not merely to a religious group and political constituency but also to the idea of civic tolerance, which is an important American political value. You appear to suggest that religious affiliation should disqualify groups from political consideration in this country. Is this what you are suggesting? If so, why should our government be prejudiced against religion? Logically and morally this doesn’t appear to be a different form of prejudice than is that which motivates endorsement of a particular religion.