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Harry Binswanger on the Ten Commandments

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When I opened my copy of the Louisville Courier-Journal today, I started reading an editorial on the Ten Commandments cases going to the Supreme Court. Given the newspaper's usual stances, I expected to read some bull story from a religious zealot. As I continued reading, I thought to myself that this person sure sounds like an Objectivist. So, I look at the author of the editorial and imagine my suprise when I discovered it was Harry Binswanger!

The editorial can be found here. It's interesting to note that, in his mini-bio, it is mentioned that Kentucky's governor, Ernie Fletcher, is an "admirer" of Ayn Rand.

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I'm certainly glad to see that this actually got published somewhere. I'm honestly surprised that a mainstream newspaper would have printed what most would certainly consider a controvercial, even heretical (which, of course, it is), view of the 10 Commandments. From a moral standpoint, they usually get a free pass. The only question for most people is whether their public display constitutes an "establishment" of religion.

I'm a little puzzled by the "Special to The Courier-Journal" under Binswanger's byline. This is an ARI Op-Ed released recently. (Here's the link.) Possibly they're the only paper in the country to have printed it.

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That's a great article.

Haha; a funny story on it: I was watching The O'Reilly Factor tonight. They were interviewing the defendent of the Ten Commandments. I started laughing when he said (paraphrasing) "they're more than just religious commandments, they are philosophical too." :) Too bad he didn't know exactly what they meant philsophically. (If he did :( ..., that's sick)

[edit to add last sentence]

Edited by realitycheck44
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The first commandment is: "I am the Lord thy God."

As first, it is the fundamental. Its point is the assertion that the individual is not an independent being with a right to live his own life but the vassal of an invisible Lord. It says, in effect, "I own you; you must obey me."

Could America be based on this? Is such a servile idea even consistent with what America represents: the land of the free, independent, sovereign individual who exists for his own sake? The question is rhetorical.

We need not take the question rhetorically. "Our Lord" is clearly written in the Constitution, the American republic's founding document.

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We need not take the question rhetorically.  "Our Lord" is clearly written in the Constitution, the American republic's founding document.

Was Dr. Binswanger talking about the U.S. government, which is what your statement refers to, or was he talking about America as a culture at its best?

Dr. Binswanger is careful about his words. I suspect he meant what he said -- America. This is part of what you quoted in post 4:

Could America be based on this? Is such a servile idea even consistent with what America represents: the land of the free, independent, sovereign individual who exists for his own sake? The question is rhetorical.
Edited by BurgessLau
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We need not take the question rhetorically.  "Our Lord" is clearly written in the Constitution, the American republic's founding document.

I searched the entire text of the Constitution and found only one mention of "Our Lord".

Article VII:

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names ...

To imply that this constitutes a religous basis to the Constitution and the foundation of the American governement is misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

Edited for clarity.

Edited by Bryan
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I searched the entire text of the Constitution and found only one mention of "Our Lord".

Article VII:

To imply that this constitutes a religous basis to the Constitution and the foundation of the American governement is misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

Edited for clarity.

Binswanger wrote: "The first commandment is: 'I am the Lord thy God.' As first, it is the fundamental. Its point is the assertion that the individual is not an independent being with a right to live his own life but the vassal of an invisible Lord. It says, in effect, 'I own you; you must obey me.' Could America be based on this?"

I would suggest that that if the founders mentioned "Our Lord" in the Constitution, then they were not entirely in agreement with Binswanger's view that the individual is not a vassal of an "invisible" Lord.

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I would suggest that that if the founders mentioned "Our Lord" in the Constitution, then they were not entirely in agreement with Binswanger's view that the individual is not a vassal of an "invisible" Lord.

"Many of the founding fathers, of course, continued to believe in God and to do so sincerely, but it was a vestigial belief, a leftover from the past which no longer shaped the essence of their thinking." -Peikoff (Religion Versus America)

Read Religion Versus America by Leonard Peikoff in The Voice Of Reason. It deals with these issues explicitly.

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I would suggest that that if the founders mentioned "Our Lord" in the Constitution, then they were not entirely in agreement with Binswanger's view that the individual is not a vassal of an "invisible" Lord.

Tom, I suggest you reread the passage quoted in post 9. Note how the phrase "our Lord" is actually used:

"in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven"

[bold added]

This usage of "our Lord" is merely a chronological convention, not a statement of submission. If I, an Objectivist, were to use the phrase "in the year AD 1230," would you say I am a Christian who sees himself as a slave of the Lord? AD means anno Domini, "year of (the) Lord," a dating convention that does not indicate the degree of religiosity of the user.

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Binswanger wrote: "The first commandment is: 'I am the Lord thy God.' As first, it is the fundamental. Its point is the assertion that the individual is not an independent being with a right to live his own life but the vassal of an invisible Lord. It says, in effect, 'I own you; you must obey me.' Could America be based on this?"

I would suggest that that if the founders mentioned "Our Lord" in the Constitution, then they were not entirely in agreement with Binswanger's view that the individual is not a vassal of an "invisible" Lord.

You still have not explained how the usage of "our Lord" in the Constitution, given the context in which its used, possibly implies any sort of religous basis to the foundations of the US goverment.

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You still have not explained how the usage of "our Lord" in the Constitution, given the context in which its used, possibly implies any sort of religous basis to the foundations of the US goverment.

The phrase "our Lord" necessarily implies the existence of some "Lord" or powerful authority. Otherwise, such a phrase would not have been employed. Furthermore, since the Founders were overwhelminly Christian, there can be no doubt that the "Lord" mentioned is one and the same as in the commandment, "I am the Lord thy God." Consequently, when Binswanger asks, if America could be based on the idea that the individual is beholden to some invisible Lord, the answer is "yes."

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The phrase "our Lord" necessarily implies the existence of some "Lord" or powerful authority.  Otherwise, such a phrase would not have been employed.  Furthermore, since the Founders were overwhelminly Christian, there can be no doubt that the "Lord" mentioned is one and the same as in the commandment, "I am the Lord thy God."  Consequently, when Binswanger asks, if America could be based on the idea that the individual is beholden to some invisible Lord, the answer is "yes."

I have shown the exact words in the context they are used in the Constitution. They are used to note the date it was ratified, the "Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven". This is simply the "official way" to express the date September 17, 1787.

Because America is (and was) on the Gregorian calendar, the year is implied as the year of "our Lord" by convention, not literally. While the vast majority of the founders were indeed Christian, Christianity was not the basis of the government.

Do you think that the US government has a Christian basis, or do you just like to take words out of context to disagree with Objectivist intellectuals? If you do believe that there is a Christian basis to the Constitution, you are going to have to provide more evidence than the manner they express the date.

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The phrase "our Lord" necessarily implies the existence of some "Lord" or powerful authority.  Otherwise, such a phrase would not have been employed.  Furthermore, since the Founders were overwhelminly Christian, there can be no doubt that the "Lord" mentioned is one and the same as in the commandment, "I am the Lord thy God."  Consequently, when Binswanger asks, if America could be based on the idea that the individual is beholden to some invisible Lord, the answer is "yes."

You know, if you really want to argue this point, then why don't you at least use the Declaration of Independence, which actually contains the ideas you are discussing.
And we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights
(off the top of my head, might not be verbatim, but pretty darn close)

I have used the phrase "In the year of our Lord" before because it is a commonly accepted phrase denoting a period of time. It doesn't mean I believe in God. Also, I agree with Mr. Laughlin; I think that Dr. Binswanger was referring to America and not *the US Government.* What I am getting from your statement is that: Since the writers of the Constitution used the phrase "our Lord" that means that the American believed that they were the *vassals* of God. Is this what you are saying? Because if you are, then I suppose all Americans are right-wing Christians because President Bush is one, right? Just because the US government wrote one document a certain way, doesn't mean that the whole country thought that way. As my history teacher always says: "you need a strong factual base." Sorry, one *out of context* quote from one document doesn't even come close to proving anything.

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I have shown the exact words in the context they are used in the Constitution.  They are used to note the date it was ratified, the "Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven".  This is simply the "official way" to express the date September 17, 1787. 

Because America is (and was) on the Gregorian calendar, the year is implied as the year of "our Lord" by convention, not literally.  While the vast majority of the founders were indeed Christian, Christianity was not the basis of the government. 

Do you think that the US government has a Christian basis, or do you just like to take words out of context to disagree with Objectivist intellectuals?  If you do believe that there is a Christian basis to the Constitution, you are going to have to provide more evidence than the manner they express the date.

The fact that the Constitution forbade Congress to respect establishment of religion in no way negates the fact that the philosophical and legal lights of late 18th century America held to the religious foundation of the new nation. The Founders of the Republic were overwhelmingly Christian (97%), and, yes, they did believe that "America could be based on the idea that the individual is beholden to some invisible Lord." Many of the signers of the document explicitly said so. Signer Benjamin Franklin wrote, "History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion...and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern" (emphasis added). The fact that Amendment I applies strictly to Congress simply shows that the architects of American government had no desire to see the church removed from state and local law.

Please note that I am not endorsing either Christianity or state-established religion. I'm merely pointing out that only an obtuse misreading of history could yield the idea that the founders of the republic did not believe that their country had a religious basis.

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The Founders of the Republic were overwhelmingly Christian (97%), and, yes, they did believe that "America could be based on the idea that the individual is beholden to some invisible Lord."
I don't suppose you have a source for that percentage?

I'm merely pointing out that only an obtuse misreading of history could yield the idea that the founders of the republic did not believe that their country had a religious basis.

Isn't this the argument from intimidation? History is a very difficult subject, and there are many different angles from which it may be studied. Do you really want to make the assertation that the idea that the founders were not extremely religious implies an *obtuse misreading of history*? Also, I don't remember Bryan mentioning the first amendment in his post at all. I believe what he was referring to was the fact that the use of the word "our Lord" in expressing a date, has almost no signifigance. (except perhaps as a mildly interesting cliche :D ) Why do continue to ignore this?
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  • 2 weeks later...

Tom Robinson's claim that America was "based on" a submission-demanding, literal version of Christianity, because the date in the Constitution contains the phrase "Our Lord", is an excellent case-study in concrete-boundedness.

Note some of the context that needs to be dropped to conclude this:

First, the idea that adherence to a convention of rendering dates automatically implies agreement with the content of the source of the convention. Using this logic, we may conclude that Tom Robinson worships ancient Teutonic gods (I'm assuming he uses the names "Tuesday", "Wednesday", etc., for the days of the week).

Second, the idea that the mere of the phrase "Our Lord" in a date in the constitution, implies that America was *based on* (i.e., took its fundamental and essential ideas from) a fundamentalist Christianity. I've checked over Tom Robinson's posts, and every one of them is accompanied by a date rendered in the Christian-based calendar system. Never does Mr. Robinson make a point to distance himself from this format of dating. We must assume, therefore -- using his own logic -- that his life is *based on* Jesus'.

Third, the idea that adherence to Christianity *in any form*, is equivalent to Christianity in any *other* form -- i.e., the notion that there are not degrees of adherence to religion, that some people take religion very literally and mystically, while others put a humastic and this-worldy spin on it. Thomas Jefferson is Jerry Falwell in this contextless universe.

Fourth, the idea that the religious beliefs of the "common man" in Colonial America is relevant. ...More relevant apparently, than the specific beliefs of the few Enlightenment intellectuals who actually founded this country.

Tom Robinson continues: "The fact that Amendment I applies strictly to Congress simply shows that the architects of American government had no desire to see the church removed from state and local law."

Perhaps Mr. Robinson forgot Jefferson's Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom?

...or maybe he doesn't consider Jefferson an "architect of American government".

Mr. Robinson concludes:

"...only an obtuse misreading of history could yield the idea that the founders of the republic did not believe that their country had a religious basis."

Obtuse indeed.

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