Thursday, October 31, 2013
Religion in American life
There is no doubt that the Christian religion has played an important role in American history but the idea that a free society can exist only with Christian underpinnings is wrong. Australia is a most irreligious place yet is freer than America in many ways (e.g. on the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom). And Japanese civility puts everyone to shame, despite the Japanese clinging resolutely to their own Shinto and Buddhist religions. And the early New England Protestants were in fact very tyrannical
Those attending the Family Research Council's most recent Values Voter Summit heard a lot about religious liberty – and with good reason. In ways both large and small, that cornerstone of freedom has found itself under attack at home and abroad. All Americans should be concerned about its well-being.
Religious liberty is as characteristic of America as our democratic political system and our free-market economy. Nowhere in the world is there more religious diversity, with all manner of faiths existing in relative harmony in the same neighborhoods, and with different houses of worship sharing the same streets in many cases.
History is filled with wars based on religious differences. Yet in the United States, these problems, with rare exceptions, are a distant memory.
Faith has always played a major role in American history. From our Founding Fathers to politicians today, acknowledgment of God in public speeches is commonplace in American discourse. In a letter to his wife on the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, John Adams wrote that the Fourth of July “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
But while the United States was founded by men with the deep and abiding belief in a Christian God, they took great care to ensure that any and all religions would be respected and protected by the Constitution.
Today, however, the Founders' attitude toward religion is widely misunderstood. A major source of confusion is the phrase “separation of church and state,” used by President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut.
Many have interpreted this phrase to mean that religion should be entirely personal, kept out of schools and other public institutions. However, as Heritage scholar Jennifer Marshall has argued, this interpretation is incorrect: “Jefferson wanted to protect states' freedom of religion from federal government control and religious groups' freedom to tend to their internal matters of faith and practice without government interference generally.”
America's Founding Fathers did not want the government to impose a government-sponsored church on all Americans. Neither did they seek to confine religion to a separate, private sphere of life.
On the contrary, they believed that religion had a vital and enduring role to play in the public affairs of the new American Republic. To cite Marshall again: “The Founders argued that virtue derived from religion is indispensable to limited government. In fact, the American Founders considered religious engagement in shaping the public morality essential to ordered liberty and the success of their experiment in self-government.”
We Americans are rightly proud of our tradition of political and economic liberty. Is an individual's freedom to choose, though, a sufficient guarantee of a good society? Our Founders did not think so. Social critic Irving Kristol observed, “It is religion that restrains the self-seeking hedonistic impulse so easily engendered by a successful market economy.”
One of the clearest expressions of the Founders' attitude toward religion – endorsed by most Americans today – came from our second president, John Adams. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” Adams declared in 1798. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Only a moral and religious people could acquire and retain such traits of character as honesty, kindness, thoughtfulness, respect for law, fairness, self-discipline and self-reliance – virtues the Founders rightly deemed necessary for self-rule.
Faith has always been an integral part of American society. Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville went so far as to call religion “the first of America's political institutions,” because although it “never mixes directly in the government of society,” it nevertheless determines the “habits of the heart” of all Americans.
Whether you choose to worship or not, or however you choose to worship, everyone benefits from the interweaving of faith into our societal fabric. To eliminate it from public discourse would deny our history – and remove a crucial component of the American spirit.
So much for social mobility… 1,000 years after they invaded, you still have to have a Norman name like Darcy or Percy to get ahead in England
Only the brightest study at our elite universities… but if your name is Darcy or Percy, you have a natural advantage.
A study showed yesterday that despite the dramatic changes in our lifestyles during the past 800 years, the same names have dominated the student rolls at Oxford and Cambridge over that time.
Researchers found that there have been Darcys, Mandevilles, Percys and Montgomerys at the two universities for 27 generations, their prestige unbroken by historic upheavals and technological revolutions.
The unchallenged status of great wealth has meant that the same names who were at the top of the social scale in the time of William the Conqueror remain among the elite now, the report said.
By contrast there are some family names whose bearers were poor 150 years ago who are still likely to remain outside the ranks of the wealthy.
Among the poorer surnames, selected by researchers because they are relatively rare and the family line can more easily be traced, are Boorman, Cholmondley, Defoe, Goodhill, Ledwell, Rowthorn, Sidwells and Tonbridge.
The researchers from the London School of Economics, Dr Neil Cummins and Professor Gregory Clark, said the name checks showed that social mobility in England is hardly greater than in medieval times and that people inherit their social status even more than they inherit their height.
Dr Cummins said: ‘Just take the names of the Normans who conquered England nearly 1,000 years ago. Surnames such as Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville and Montgomery are still over-represented at Oxbridge and also among elite occupations such as medicine, law and politics.
‘What is surprising is that between 1800 and 2011 there have been substantial institutional changes in England but no gain in rates of social mobility for society as a whole.’
The study comes at a time of widespread concern about social mobility as large-scale research suggests that those born to less well-off families have had less chance of success since the 1970s.
Much of the blame has been pinned on the education system, with left-wingers attacking universities for failing to admit students from poor backgrounds, while right-wingers say the abolition of the grammar schools cut off the way up for working class children.
The LSE research said that the spread of mass education over the past 150 years has done nothing to break the grip of the longstanding elite on positions of power, and that the same families have been on top despite centuries of religious reformation, civil war, industrial revolution, the growth of democracy and education, and the birth of the welfare state.
Conventional estimates say it takes three to five generations for a wealthy family to fall to the middle ground and a poor family to rise to the same level.
The researchers tested the idea by examining student rolls for Oxford and Cambridge universities going back to 1170, four years after the Norman Conquest.
The two institutions were the only universities in England until 1832 and continue to accept only the best-qualified students.
'There has been modest improvement in social mobility rates between the medieval era and the modern world, with that change occurring around 1800,' the researchers said.
But they added: 'The remarkable status persistence found using Oxbridge attendance as the status measure is found just as strongly with a more general and democratic measure of status such as asset ownership.
'Over the generations there were substantial increases in the rate of taxation of wealth and income, especially after 1910. Yet this did nothing to increase rates of wealth mobility.'
Bibles banned at British student halls: Company branded 'anti-Christian' after stopping Gideons from leaving Holy Book in rooms
A company that manages student halls has been branded ‘anti-Christian’ after banning the Gideons from leaving Bibles in bedrooms.
Digs, which manages halls for Huddersfield University, said it wants properties to be ‘ethically neutral’. It also claims the ban is necessary because many students are from overseas.
But the Rev Mike Smith, a former minister at Huddersfield’s Golcar Baptist Church, said: ‘Our culture is not ethically neutral. “I am sure that university authorities would not consider it ‘ethically neutral’ if their accommodation was used as a brothel, crack-house or a store for terrorist weapons. ‘Banning bibles is not ‘ethically neutral’. It is a positive anti-Christian step, and could be the edge of a very dangerous wedge.’
He added: ‘What is considered perfectly acceptable in hotels, hospitals and prisons is not fit for students! How foolish can you get?
‘There are two reasons. Both are utterly spurious.
‘Are the university authorities not aware that the Christian faith is a worldwide faith? And as for non-Christian students, they are not compelled to read the bibles.’
Robyn Towning, marketing manager for the Digs, which has been responsible for refurbishing the 1,386 capacity Storthes Hall Park for Huddersfield University, said: ‘It’s not our role to be religious or have political views and impress them on our students. ‘We are here to provide accommodation and pastoral care.
‘Their bibles are in reception and there’s a Koran so students can access them if they want.’
Mr Towning added: ‘I don’t think the measure is anti-Christian; it’s our job to be neutral.’
The Gideons are an evangelical Christian organisation formed in 1899.
One in 10 foreign criminals back on the streets of Britain because officials have failed to kick them out of the UK
One in every ten prisoners held at a jail for foreign criminals was freed back on to Britain’s streets because officials failed to deport them, a damning report reveals.
Inspectors said the convicts were released without undergoing any behaviour programmes designed to keep the public safe.
It had been ‘irresponsibly’ assumed there was no point rehabilitating the criminals locked-up at HMP Canterbury since they were going to be booted out of the UK.
But, due to human rights appeals and other hold ups, at least ten per cent of the inmates were set free in the UK.
It is embarrassing for ministers because Canterbury was designated as a prison specifically for overseas convicts facing deportation.
At another jail, Lincoln, a Somalian rapist was still behind bars nine years after passing his release date because ministers had not been able to arrange his removal.
The failures were identified in the annual report of her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, who warned that ‘cracks were beginning to show’ in the prison system.
Nick Hardwick was scathing of the efforts being made at some jails to get foreign offenders out of the country.
The report said that ‘in some prisons the relationship with the Home Office was poor or non-existent and foreign national prisoners had difficulty in progressing their cases or even knowing where they stood in relation to deportation’.
At HMP Lincoln, the Somalian rapist, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for rape, completed his sentence in 2002. But he was deemed too dangerous to be released prior to his removal from the country, which is being held up by legal wrangles.
Under human rights law, foreign criminals can dodge removal to Somalia on the grounds it is too dangerous.
In a recent snapshot of the scale of the problem, Home Office figures showed that, on a single day in August, 937 foreign nationals were behind bars despite completing their prison sentences.
Keeping them in jail costs the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds each year. The Lincoln case alone has cost the taxpayer almost £450,000.
Yesterday, the Mail revealed how a notorious gang ‘general’ who poses a ‘serious threat to the public’ could be back on Britain’s streets within months because ministers have failed to have him deported.
Joland Giwa, whose street name is Dexter, led a campaign of terror on the streets of Croydon, South London, and is ready ‘at any time to use knives and weapons’, police say.
He was thought to be from Nigeria or Sierra Leone, but both countries refuse to accept he is one of theirs and linguists have now said he has a strong London accent, despite finding that he used English spoken in Nigeria.
A judge ruled that immigration officials had three months to get him travel documents and if they failed Giwa should be released.
The Ministry of Justice closed Canterbury prison earlier this year as part of plans to modernise the prison estate.
The Home Office said it had unveiled plans to make it easier to deport foreign criminals.
They include making it harder for offenders to claim they have a human right to a ‘family life’ in the UK, and the introduction of a system where criminals are deported first, then appeal from their own country.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.