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Church And State In America

Roger Williams, and the history that set the table.

Roger Williams (National Park Service)

Roger Williams (National Park Service)

Soul freedom sounds like a pop song, but it was hot philosophy 400 years ago, in the pre-dawn of the American republic. Today, we struggle over church and state in marriage, reproduction, education. We cite Thomas Jefferson and separation of church and state.

But long before Jefferson there was Roger Williams, fighting for Soul Libertie. Warning that when church and state entwine, it is the soul that suffers. The church that should be wary. In our time of Romney, Santorum and Obama, this history resonates.

This hour, On Point: Roger Williams and the creation of the American soul.

-Tom Ashbrook


John Barry, author of Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Review of Book “But can one be devoutly and deeply religious and still believe in the separation of church and state? Many people throughout the world, and especially Muslims, would likely say “no.” If religion and the worship of God are truly important, indeed, the most important things in the world, then the state, they say, must be involved. The conclusion seems obvious to such believers: since the spread of atheism does in fact injure them, the government must protect and promote religion and the belief in God.”

New York Times “Should you find yourself in front of the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence, look up and east, and tip your hat — real or imagined — to Roger Williams. A 35-foot statue of the Protestant theologian (1603?-1683) stands high in Prospect Terrace Park, with right hand extended, as if blessing the city he founded.”

Smithsonian “Williams had a great facility with language—a great curiosity for language—and  began trading with Indians and trying to learn their language.”

The Nation “The founder of Providence was the first to see that religious freedom, and separation of church and state, was intimately connected with political freedom.”


Chapter 1

This is a story about power. Those who know of Roger Williams generally think of him only in terms of the relationship of church and state, and certainly he is a central figure in the history of that debate. But he also came
to have a deep understanding of political power, of the collision between England’s “antient rights and liberties” and a government justifying its acts by “reason of state,” i.e., the national interest and national security, and by
the theory of the divine right of kings, a concept which King James injected into English jurisprudence. Williams, although not a lawyer, also came to have a deep understanding of the fundamental precepts of English law. This
book explores these questions by describing the evolution of these ideas in him and his translation of them into concrete form. Like most ideas, they evolved out of the interplay between his thought and his personal experience.
The personal experience included, during his teenage years when his views were forming, exposure not only to Sir Edward Coke and Sir Francis Bacon but to King James and his son King Charles, to their Privy Councils and courts,
and to the leaders of Parliament. While trying to bring his ideas into fruition as an adult, he routinely dealt with and developed close friendships with such men as John Milton and Oliver Cromwell. One cannot know what precisely
he took from such experiences. One cannot know the heart and mind of Williams or any other person. But one can stand where he stood, see what he saw, know much of what he heard and read, and thus come to some understanding
of his perspective. This much is clear: his personal history was well grounded in English religious, legal, and constitutional history, just as was the larger history of the English Puritan exodus to America, complete with their
vision of themselves as a new Chosen People. Religion and politics were ever mixed. As the historian Alan Simpson noted, “It is in the midst of the struggles between king and Parliament that the English [Puritan] discovers his mission. The confused strivings became fused with a providential purpose: a way is being
opened for the establishment of Zion.”

This English history laid the foundations of American history; in particular, it built the infrastructure of American culture. Roger Williams was born probably in 1603, at a time when England saw itself as surrounded by enemies without and riven by enemies within. International rivalries threatened to— and did— erupt into war, but even greater turbulence was being generated at home as the nation endured the death throes of feudalism
and the birth pains of capitalism. Normally one could find peace from the attendant turmoil in the economy and society in religion. Instead, religion itself stirred that turmoil, for the history of the Reformation in England was

The English Reformation began roughly one hundred and fifty years before Luther, when John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and foreshadowed Luther in his criticisms of the Catholic Church. Wycliffe, later called “the
Morning Star of the Reformation,” died in 1384; forty- four years later and a decade after declaring him heretic, the Catholic Church ordered his body disinterred and burned and his ashes thrown into a river. England did not
take another major step toward Protestantism for nearly two centuries, when Henry VIII, whom the pope had called “Defender of the Faith,” wanted a male heir but failed to get papal approval to annul his marriage in order to wed
again. So he decreed himself head of the Church of England and independent of the pope’s authority. Parliament soon confirmed him in this and made a national hero of the long- dead Wycliffe.

But this English church superimposed a theology based on such Calvinist principles as predestination on a largely Catholic structure. From its beginning, then, English Protestantism contained within itself tensions identical to those which would ignite the righteous slaughters of religious war on the European

When Henry’s daughter Mary became queen, she returned the nation to Catholicism and married Philip, a future king of Spain. The marriage appalled all of England, for Spain was England’s great and feared rival. Philip spent only
fourteen months in England before returning home— he never set foot in England again. Meanwhile, in a reign of only five years, Mary burned three hundred Protestants at the stake, including Thomas Cranmer, who had been
archbishop of Canterbury. In doing so, she also burned a horror of Catholicism into the psyche of English Protestants, a horror kept alive by John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a multivolume history that recounted in graphic detail the stories of each of those killed by Mary.

Across the Channel, far worse slaughters were occurring. The single deepest river of red that fl owed into that sea of blood occurred in 1572, when on St. Bartholomew’s Day French Catholics suddenly fell upon their Protestant
brethren and slaughtered them. Catholic histories generally put the number of victims at fifteen thousand; Protestant histories claim as many as one hundred thousand were murdered.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul by John M. Barry Copyright © 2012 by John M. Barry

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  • Holier than Thou

     “since the spread of atheism does in fact injure them, the government must protect and promote religion and the belief in God.”

    Who will protect the atheists, the scientists, science, reasonable thought?

    Why should the government, the people protect insanity and bigotry?

    Under the logic of dominionists, then, if i claim a great booger created the world, you will call me crazy.  But if  I somehow convinced most of the world this great Boooger does exist, and is our savior, some would claim its dry, others moist, some green, others yellow, but government, and thereby we the people must legitimize this insanity, my booger, and support it, and evoke the slime of my booger, the holy goo, and cry booger bless us all at every speech and convention, less you not be elected.  hail the great booger!  Amen.  Booger watch over us all!  I thy mane great booger…in the booger we trust…oh thank you lord booger, thank-ya, thank-ya–thank-ya baby booger, sweet baby booger!

    You must do this.  it cannot be separated form state or culture or any reasonable speech.  My booger must be protected.  And anyone who does not believe is injuring the state, the nation the people–my booger is almighty!  And always capitalize my Booger. For it is written in the great book of boogers–and it is the Word, the word of Booger.

    The spread of religion injures all.

    • Sofia

      Your view of religion is a nice summary of a juvenile and crude way of thinking about what some people call God, others the life force, others a unified field theory. Good for you for not needing the hope that religion provides for many and that sustains civilization and allows scientific inquiry to flourish. Science without conscience produces despair, which injures all.

      It is difficult to find purpose in life when thinking we are all merely sacks of chemicals churning and producing thoughts–even those supposedly based on reason–fairly randomly and without full control (evident when things like schizophrenia or other mental conditions alter one’s ability to recognize what is “true” or not–conditions that affect even great scientists and mathematicians). Is a colony of schizophrenic people any more distorted than a colony (aka reseaarch group) of “scientific” reasoners? Who worships at the Church of Google or Facebook? Roger Williams’s bravery (and that of Mary Dyer–who was hanged–and her friend Anne Hutchinson) in arguing that because there are many paths to the One Great Truth (the Great Spirit, as Native peoples might call it), all should live with the ability to exercise free conscience, unfettered by civil laws that distort who gets what kind of grant money for scientific research, for example.

      Bacon was deeply religious. He welcomed Quakers, Jews, and others whose religious opinions or lack thereof were all part of our search for the great truths of life. This is the role of science as well, my friend. Perceptions, research, findings can all be distorted or altered simply by observation, which is always only partial. Our limited ability to know “The Whole Truth” is what Williams so boldly affirmed. The great mystery of life remains.

      • Sofia

        Sorry, meant to type “Williams was deeply religious.” I guess I should rather have written “Williams was deeply religious but over time became what today we’d say is “spiritual but not religious.” He was not held tight by any church and did not cling to one, after a life of pondering truth from many perspectives.

      • Gerald Fnord

        Who ever said “merely”?  If we are sacks of chemicals (and their incredibly ordered interactions), and we find ourselves marvellous [sic], it would seem to me that there were no “mere” about it.

        This claim that there is no wonder (or morality, for that matter) is reminiscent of the idea I once heard from an Englishman that a Euro couldn’t be worth anything because it didn’t have the Queen’s head on it.

        As for schizophrenics v. scientists:  no.  Scientists  by definition test their beliefs against the actual world, and say they were wrong when they see a preponderance of evidence against even their most deeply-held opinions.  Schizophrenics usually never change their tunes despite overwhelming evidence.

        • holier than thou


      • skeptic4321

        If my reading of history is correct, we are at least 500-1000 years behind where we might otherwise be in science and technology thanks specifically to Christianity/Catholicism and Islam.  Now that we (in America) no longer burn people at the stake for heresy, you can conveniently toss out your misguided rhetoric that religion “sustains civilization and allows scientific inquiry to flourish.”  Sorry, it only did so if when the “science” conformed to the religious dogma of the time.  For centuries science was suppressed by religion – and it continues to this day.

      • holier than thou

         no–problem–it gives you hope–keep it to yourself.  Don’t impost it on me, or the state.

        Religion is not morality.  So I can bring ethics to science without faith in boogers. 

         I could say, your faith in a god is juvenile–extremely juvenile.  How juvenile of you–there I said it–grow up!

        i don’t make you acknowledge my opinions–don’t make me cowtow to your childish opinions.

        I would much rather see people show more reverence to nature and life–humanity and all living things, the biosphere–i would even demand it lawfully–as the earth has rights–it sustains us.  But I don’t force people to come to this understanding because people resent being forced and will not understand a thing if forced–it takes personal enlightenment and only then will society shift–naturally.  i would love to impose an environmental dictatorship (as nature is essential to our well-being and it has rights)–but i do not–because it wouldn’t work–its against individual freedoms.  And environmentalism is based on science, empathy, compassion, reason, and spirituality. 

        But I don’t force you to support my understanding–I can only hope you come to understand it.  No, god is not important to the sustainability of all nature–but environmentalism is–you depend on science and compassion in nature–but not god. 

        It is offensive that you impose your juvenile beliefs on me–your murderous, genocidal, war-like beliefs–as history would have it.

        Nature is essential–religion is not.  Evil exists in the world because religious people are focused on the ‘next life’ instead of this one–so it absolves them of all responsibility or care.  If you consider all the evils of religion–it should be banned and the religious should be silenced and jailed, while the environment–nature– is essential to survival and well-being–spiritually, mentally, and physically, yet it is heroic to destroy it, and crazy to protect it–mostly because religion and religious people condemn those who speak for nature and all humanity.  Crazy!  juvenile!  stupid!

        I do not have a belief–because it is true and based on reason and science, even heart.  I can say my opinion is truth, but you cannot.

        • holier than thou

           where do you get ‘science without conscience’ from anything I said?  Religion is not ‘conscience’.  You presume too much.  Your belief is childish but it is your belief–now keep it yo yourself, and out of my state and school.  Education is for thought and critical thinking –not to spread insanity and childish crude nonsense.

      • holier than thou

        yet science is evolving–it recognizes thru peer review and further research when things have gone unnoticed or might have been tainted–it allows for change–religion does not. 

        The state should never ever ever fund religion in any manner.  But it should always finance science and the arts.  If you want to express you personal opinions in art–do so.  Public money should not go to spreading religion or religious ideas.  Do you want to finance my booger?

        You have a very immature notion of science.  The ‘whole truth’ cannot be legitimized by state–because we cant know the whole truth–and the whole truth is unique to all.  So we are talking about very different things. 

        If i walk around saying ‘oh, god bless my booger’ or gaia bless us–you would think i’m abnormal–but it is only part of the whole truth–so don’t judge me…nevertheless, i would understand that you dont share my unique view and so it is out of place and inappropriate to bless you with my boogers or my gai beliefs.  it is not shared. 

        So just keep your prayers and blessings to your self. 

        We treat people for schizophrenia–so maybe we should treat people for infections of religion.

  • Jochebed

    One of the greatest hypocrisies of “church and state separation” is the financial tax benefits churches receive.  Nothing riles me  more than a church or pastor or whole denomination (including my own) that will rail against a move by the government on abortion, gay marriage, etc…yet accept a government tax benefit.  Not that I want to hear political discourse in church or have my pastor tell me who to vote for, but they would have so much more standing in my eyes if they’d ditch the monetary benefit from the government.  Roger Williams would be mortified by a church accepting such benefits from the government.

    • Gregg

      Do they receive money?

      • Yar

        Yes! The deduction for charitable donations is allowing the individual to chose which institutions to support.  Taxes should be for support of the Government and not allowed to be directed toward a particular charity.

        • Gregg

           They receive deductions not money.

    • William

      I agree. I think all churches, non-profits, etc..should pay taxes.

  • AC

    i’m not particulalry religious, mostly agnostic, but I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if religious leaders lectured on traffic laws and how to be a better ‘____’ (insert appropriate designation) or just plain old KIND and civil……:P.
    that’s about the only time I think religion and state should help one another out…..

    • Hidan

       The you have the problem of them lecturing such moral than finding out they speed themselves. Sounds good but most religious folks can’t even see there own hypocrisy most the time while telling others what’s right and wrong.

  • Hidan

    Anytime church and state gets to close discrimination is soon to follow. Evil,bigotry and racism tends to be justified as good

    • Jasoturner

       This is perhaps inevitable, no?  Religion relies upon received wisdom that is inherently arbitrary.  Consequently, the practices and even the purported morality of any religion is bound to be inconsistent with the beliefs or observations of at least some people.  A religious state must necessarily discriminate against these citizens as a matter of governance.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    I have friends of all persuasions so I don’t fear Muslims any more than I fear Christians. What I fear is zealots of all these different sects running around proselytizing about how everybody else is wrong and going to hell. So I have to ask which hell? The one created here on earth by religious hatred and selective practice of tenets of faith or the hell described in books handed down to us by churches that fostered that hatred as their leaders wrestled for power?

    Much of what Jesus said goes unpracticed by most Christians on a daily basis. Most of what Mohammed said goes unpracticed on a daily basis… so who is qualified to interpret the words of Jesus or Mohammed or Budha or Krisna, and which specific text is the true word of God?

    That is why we were blessed with separation of Church and
    State. Now all we have to do is enforce it.

  • Charles Vigneron

    The Flushing Remonstrance of 29 December 1658, at New Amsterdam, demanded their Rights under the Dutch Constitution of the Seven Provinces. This was achieved before it became New York, & then lost.

    “No man nor number of men upon earth, have power or authority to rule over men’s consciences in religious matters…” West New Jersey Constitution, Laws, November 1681. This last went so far as that one not even declare any religious preference or belief. An atheist, Jew, or Muslim could have held office.

    The state of New Jersey, a century later, required belief in a Protestant Sect to hold public office.

    It’s a long history and Roger Williams was one among many.

  • Jack Marshak

    E.U. slams the apartheid-state of Israel over settlement, ill treatment of Palestinians


    How can America call itself a ‘God fearing nation’, when Israel openly discriminates against Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, steals land from Palestinians, and forces Palestinians to live in miserable conditions in Gaza and the West Bank?

    None of which would be possible if Israel wasn’t given $3 billion dollars from U.S. tax payers annually!

    • William

      I think it has something to do with the rockets the Palestinians keep shooting at Israel.

      • Jack Marshak

        You got it,

        The Palestinians should get used to:

        - having their land stolen

        - living in inhumane conditions in Gaza and the West Bank

        - having hundreds of innocent Palestinians (children included) incarcerated indefinitely

        - being denied statehood

        What were those Palestinians thinking?

        • AGUY

          On topic?

        • William

          I would say the Palestinians don’t think much…look at who they voted to be their “leadership”.

      • Victor Vito

        Your accusation is vague and unsubstantiated.

        • William

          Yeah right, the Palestinians are shooting bottle rockets at Israel…

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me Jesus had quite a bit to say about separation of church and state, about praying behind a closed door, rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s, loving thy neighbor as thyself.  Making a show of religious practice or foisting your own upon others does not seem to me to stem from the originating sources.  Nor does it seem to impinge on others, unless people are seriously misled.  What does it mean, in John Barry’s excerpt from the New York Review of Books, “the spread of atheism does in fact injure them, the government must protect and promote religion and the belief in God.”   Injure how?  Religion must be most uncontrollable because it binds exactly with a shared relation to the unknowable, a shared “belief” in such, which is a crucial I-beam in social order and sanity, but being an article of belief, not of fact, cannot be controlled, and is therefore terribly vulnerable.  What do we know about helpless people?  They tend to violence.  Right?  But not necessarily because they have been “injured.”

  • Ed

    The Church does not impose, it proposes. There is no coercion in religion. On the other hand, we enter the public square not as partial people, but with all our beliefs, and we argue for them with reason. And the best argument should win. That an argument has a religious source doesn’t disqualify it.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Your priests just proposed to those boys and girls?  Did they have a legal marriage?  To ALL their VICTIMS?
         NONE of the priests threatened ‘the wrath of God’, if the boy or girl tells their parents or anyone else?
         CRIMES AND SINS, are what they ARE!
         WHY don’t Catholics OWN their CRIMES and SINS they have COMMITTED?  PUBLICLY ?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        You do like to tar everyone in a group with the same brush.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Priests abused children, in many VILE ways.  Bishops covered it up, and coerced the laiety to ignore the CRIMES, and persecute the VICTIMS.  Cardinals hid the paper proof of these CRIMES, and coerced the laity to obey the bishops.  the popes have committed the same CRIMES AND HYPOCRICY.  Catholics that follow such a FLAWED and FRAUDULENT ‘church’, condone the actions.
              The VICTIMS are the ones that continue to suffer and be persecuted.

      • Ellen Dibble

        It seems to me religion has its concept of forgiveness (and sometimes paying for that), which at best enables a much more flexible society, but power (not of religion, although it has at times been identical to government, coopted by governments back from day one) tries to achieve certain exemptions (tax breaks) and immunities.  To be a priest is to have certain impunity, because one is under the rule of God, greater than under the rule of the State.  However, that is arguable.  Conscientious objectors play on that split; Gandhi, Mandela, many, many use their religion to shape the rules and standards of the State.  But they don’t usually pretend that they ARE the government.

    • Victor Vito

      I had a great response to your post, then I remembered that you don’t answer responses to your posts anyway. 

    • Ayn Marx 666

      The motivation certainly can be religious, but arguments in the public square should rely solely on data observable by anyone and critæria not tied to religion or any particular religion.

      So the revelations to my shepherd ancestors (not that there’s anything wrong with being a shepherd, certainly a bestialist shepherd is more worthy of respect than many CEOs) don’t count, and neither does any argument that boils down to ‘The public good this will accomplish will be to make us more holy or less profane.’

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Yes, Ayn, a LOT of CEOs make other criminals look saintly!

    • Jasoturner

      The church does not impose?  Interesting claim that conflicts with most of the religious doctrine I have been exposed to.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      The basic principle of America is liberty.  It’s taken us a while to get to our current level of acceptance of that idea, but the principle is that as long as I’m not hurting you, I get to do as I choose.  I get to decide what to do with my own body.  I get to believe as I choose, and the government can’t favor one set of beliefs over another.

      • holier than thou

         “the principle is that as long as I’m not hurting you, I get to do as I choose.”

        polluting the environment–by state, corporation, and individual–harms all–therefore it violates my rights and my liberty.  Thus, it must be constitutionalized that pollution is a crime against humanity and earth–and that the earth has rights that must be protected.

        but a drug user or seller violates no liberty.  drug purchase and use is an individual choice protected by the constitution.  therefore legalize all drugs and liberate the prisons.

        then fill them back up with corporate criminals–bp, wall street, cheny, bush, ashcroft, rumsfild, etc…

    • AGUY

      Nor does an argument have an inherently higher moral point, or is inherently more beneficial in a secular government, because of it coming from a religious source.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      SOME, if not ALL of those priests coerced boys and girls into sex.  Higher Catholic clergy coerced parents, the children, and others to keep quiet, didn’t they?

  • Terry Tree Tree

    IF you want the U.S. to be a theocracy, Buhdist?, Taoist? Ghurka?  Moonie?
       Oh, you want YOUR religion to be in charge?  SO DOES EVERY OTHER RELIGION AND CULT, and ‘RELIGION’!

    • AGUY

      I believe you meant to spell “Buddhist.”

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Thanks!  I can’t claim to know how to spell ALL religions.

  • Jasoturner

    To be ruled by received wisdom seems perhaps the cruelest fate that might befall a rational creature.  Even if that creature never comprehended it’s own imprisonment.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      What if it’s considered wisdom?  But really, how many engineers think deeply about the basis of calculus?

      • Gerald Fnord

        What I’ve seen of calculus as practiced by engineers is, from a strict mathematician’s stand-point, horrible…many engineers use Fourier transforms to solve differential equations and never give a thought to questions of convergence, integrate without knowing anything about generalised Riemann-Lebesgue integration, and so on…

        But then again, they do well with what they know,  and it were counter-productive to ask them to learn these things (sorry to be élitist) if they can—and, loosely speaking, “we” may need more engineers than could learn all that stuff…

        …but on the third hand, engineers don’t _claim_ to know everything about the mathematical bases of what they know how to do, or that they do it with rigour, whereas quite a lot of religious people claim both that the most important things about the Universe were not provably knowable and that they know them with certainty, and if you don’t, you’re gonna fry.

        • Jasoturner

          A good point.  Engineers make stuff work, and if you don’t need to know the precise details of, say, how to heat treat a metal tube you want to specify, you don’t worry about those details.

          Driven by results, not dogma…

      • Jasoturner

         I have read a couple of Newton biographies, as well as David Berlinski’s marvelous “Tour of the Calculus”.  I am quite familiar with the conceptual development of this powerful and useful mathematical tool.

        Calculus does not capture considered wisdom.  It captures demonstrable wisdom.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           I wasn’t talking about you, and considered would include looking at demonstrations.

  • Sunweaver

    As a Pagan, it is clear to me that we are far from the ideal of separating church and state. It seems to me that we are, in fact, moving farther and farther away from this. It is an unspoken requirement that one must worship the Christian god in order to be president. If there is the perception that a candidate may not be Christian or not Christian enough, that is used as a way to discredit and ridicule that candidate.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Finish the thought, please.

      • Sunweaver

         I hit the button too quickly and immediately realized what I’d done. Thanks.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       When Michael Newdow challenged “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, he was asked why he didn’t just run for office and remove the phrase by legislation.  His answer was that atheists don’t win in America.  The U.S. Constitution specifically rejects religious tests for candidates, but too many voters seem to need their religion to be defended by the government.

    • Jasoturner

      Well, a religious being must fear those with other beliefs at a certain level, since the existence of alternate beliefs suggests that one’s own, heart-felt belief could somehow be erroneous.  This is not a metaphysical tension that many people will tolerate if they don’t have to.

      Since the majority of Americans appear to call themselves religious in a Christian way, it seems inevitable that one has to claim religion of a more or less mainstream christian sect.  Voters cannot be expected to vote for someone professing belief in something they fear, either consciously or subconsciously.

      In this regard, Romney is a fascinating experiment.  I think the jury is still out on where he resides on the religious comfort scale.  The election results will be interesting indeed.

      • at

         Religions are not what they claim to be, and really can never be. A truly religious being would be one who personally experiences the reality of a higher consciousness. Such persons if they are known at all (and most of them are and were not) are the actual bases of all religions, but after that person is gone (and of course all persons recognized as such were not so enlightened) it is just misunderstanding, the interpretation of things that cannot be thought or spoken, into thoughts and words, because that is all that people without direct access to consciousness beyond their “I” have. That is the level they are operating on and it has as much to do with the consciousness of future man (which is what enlightenment, heaven, etc really is) as “a nail is like a requiem” — as Gurdjieff would say.

  • Dave_in_RI

    There seems to be so much misunderstanding of the meaning of the 1st Amendment. When an atheist student in Roger Williams’ home state protested a religious display in a public school, people accused atheists of wanting to ban religion! Why can’t people understand the simple principle that we can all have our religious freedom, but that we need to keep our public institutions neutral?

  • Ayn Marx 666

    I’m amused at one of the origins of Williams’ tolerance:  he believed most of humanity to be damned in the eyes of their Loving Father, subject to eternal and horrible torments after death, and unable to change their condition before…so, though he could not refrain from missionary work, so doing being an heretical renunciation of Jesus’ “Great Commission”, he wasn’t going to press matters.

  • kaltighanna

    It boggles my mind that religious groups fight so hard to enact laws that criminalize those who don’t believe what they do. It seems to me that religious people should be ones who fight the hardest to keep a bright line of separation between Church and State since they’re the ones who’d be in trouble if a rival religious group became more popular than theirs… 

    I doubt any atheist was burned alive during the Spanish Inquisition. When the powers of State and Church join to keep society in check, it is the people who believe in different religions who usually get the noose.

    • Gerald Fnord

      Well, atheists being so much rarer than schismatics, simple statistics makes it likely that this were the case.

      Most people have believed in some sort of spiritual sphere…I don’t fault them for this, life was terrible and a patient in pain may die for want of an opiate.  In any event, before we had any understanding of the Universe that made it different from the things we humans make—tools like a flint axe or a moral system or a government—atheism seemed to place a poor second. I cannot prove the following true, and it reflects my biases, but I would hold that this is why so many in the Age of Enlightenment styled themselves Deists—”Someone made it,” was their explanation for why there were anything, faute de mieux, they needed a ‘Why’ as well as an ‘How’, which latter alone suits me fine as I consider the quest for a ‘Why’ to be a circular argument (asking for what purpose a thing were made _assumes_ a maker).

  • Nmr

    I am delighted to see that John Barry has another work coming out. I have tremendous respect for The Great Influenza and Rising Tide, and have referred innumerable friends and my scientific colleagues to read them over the years.  I found his research into the depth and breadth of each of these events to be both fascinating and enlightening.  He pulled together the scientific, medical, political, social, environmental, and cultural elements that rendered the ultimate impact of two completely different natural disasters exponentially worse.  I can’t wait to read his treatment of this critical new subject with his characteristic thoroughness and insight.

  • nj_v2

    Tom A. asks if we’ve got the “balance” right in the separation of  “church” and “state.”

    The currency in my pocket says, “In God we trust.”

    Civic “swearing-in” rituals ask, “So help you God?”

    Clearly, the answer to Tom’s question is “no.”

    • BHA in Vermont

       All that was put in to prove we were not a country of terrible anti-theist Communists. Time to rip it all out.

      We are not communists and communism has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with who owns the means to make money and who gets the money that is made. Look at Wall Street and the 1%. This country is running on “make as much as you can FOR YOURSELF regardless of how it affects others”. I can’t imagine anything being further from Communism.

      • Gerald Fnord

        Well, take the principle of self-interest being preached as dogma, add property “rights” that end  up not seeming relevant to people without much property, and you might get Communism, though I fear that Fascism, and probably a theocratic one, were more likely.

    • Hal from East Boston

         On the whole, I think we pretty much have the  right balance. “In God We Trust” on the money, “under God” in the Pledge (which no one is required to utter, by the way) to my mind represent a few bricks loosened, a few crumbs of mortar out of the great wall of separation. Admittedly less than perfect, but only by a little bit. The important thing is that no one is molested in this country for either having, or not having, supernatural beliefs. As an “unbeliever” myself, I feel perfectly safe in my country and perfectly free to either announce it or keep it entirely to myself.
         As to swearing-in rituals, constitutionally, no one is required to say “So help me God.” He or she may pre-arrange with the person doing the swearing-in to “affirm” rather than swear an oath. Now, you may argue that it takes some courage to do such a thing. True, but it only takes a litlle. And if you stand on your rights and pluck up that courage, you will be the nobler for it, and your country a little bit better that day.

      • skeptic150

        Boston – a very nice place – but try living in the “Bible belt” (TN, etc) and you might feel differently about how influential these “few bricks loosened” are.

  • Jack Marshak

    Obama remains silent over hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners over their protest of Palestinian civilians at the hands of the apartheid-state of Israel


    There might be a seperation of ‘church and state’ but thanks to A.I.PA.C. and the A.D.L., there’s absolutely no separation of ‘synagogue and state’.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp


  • Greyman

    Whence come President Obama’s “moral imperatives”? Do they not descend more directly from Kant’s “categorical imperative” than from an ethic derived from the Gospels? Obama’s moral vocabulary is laced thickly with “should”, “must”, and “ought”; whereas Christ in the Gospels studiously avoids such locutional constructions, issuing Gospel challenges almost exclusively with the vocabulary of “do” (and NOT the contemporary Protestant debasement “try”) and “be”. (Seem to recall Christ used a “should” construction in the Greek in only one or two specific instances, I think pertaining to questions regarding the reading of Mosaic Law. I also note here the Almighty’s prudent reluctance to answer directly Cain’s query regarding fraternal custodianship). If Obama’s moral imperatives were acquired partly through the midwifery of Jeremiah Wright, however, America’s homegrown aversion of Christian orthodoxy (what other country has gestated Mormonism, transcendentalism, Christian Science, the KKK, pentacostalism, et cetera, with such abandon?) simply acquires another chapter.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think there is a huge difference between being a religious leader in the sense of a pastor, one who tends to the flock, caring for their spiritual welfare, versus being religious in the sense Roger Williams was.  My heart goes out to him.  A few preachers push the envelope, leading people to new orientations of their beliefs and the role of their communities in their society.  I’m thinking of Martin Luther King right there.  But religious “leaders” are among the most conservative and traditional, which probably means religion is pretty slow to adapt to new conditions.  Case in point:  birth control and Catholics.

    • Roy Mac

      Stop your rambling nonsense.  Go to your blog and leave this discussion board alone.

      • Jack Marshak

        Thank you.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     Liberty is the ability to choose what I want to do.  The “liberty” to do what the church approves is no kind of liberty that I recognize.

  • BHA in Vermont

    The problem with “doing right” depends on the person.
    To some “right” means they can do whatever they want. 
    To others “right” means make as little adverse impact on others as is humanly possible.
    To others “right” is whatever their clergy tells them is “right”. And a lot of the religious institutions have different and conflicting definitions of “right”.

    • Gerald Fnord

      There may be basic notions of fairness built into us…not all styles of behaviour would have allowed their performers and their performers’ descendants to live and to thrive.

      For example, the combination of self-interest and the imitative tendencies of primates leads to at least a vague notion of reflexivity—if I model some behaviour that does well for me at others’ expence, next time I might be the ‘other’ paying for it next time, and there are a lot more people than that are “I”‘s…so, since I can be killed, it’s probably a good idea for me not to kill even if it appears to benefit me (e.g., that there be one less ignorer of the subjunctive mood).

      • Gerald Fnord

        Excuse me, ‘…than there are “I”‘s…’; I was awkwardly trying to note that I were easily out-numbered by my potential imitators.

  • Ayn Marx 666

    My two cents:  religions tend to make truth-claims that are not dependent on objectively-observable data.  As such, there is always a temptation for religion, like any such ideology, to “prove” its arguments by forcing everyone else to shut up.

    This is of a type with the the natural association of a loud voice with a bad argument.Mind you, this is not necessarily religion at its essence, but it is so strong a temptation that it has usually been the case—even Buddhism was spread in early days by the sword.

    This being the case, the tendency of the faithful to try to seize control of what is (or attempts to be) the monopolist of “legitimate” force—for that is the State in its essence—is completely understandable, predictable, and so must be guarded-against fervently.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Call religion a species of narrative.  What makes it true is the power of the story and what it tells us about ourselves.  Science works with different standards.

      • at

         That is not even in the parking-lot of the ballpark of what it is that makes religion true, not even in the same zip code, not even in the same dimension.

        • at

           That is what truth you find in religion; an entirely different thing.

    • Dave_in_RI

      Can you give some examples of these truth-claims that are not dependent  on objectively observable data? 

      • Hal from East Boston

        For starters, that there is a God, that He has made known His will, and that He has representatives on Earth who are commissioned by Him to interpret that will. All truth-claims which are attached to no objectively observable data.

        • Dave_in_RI

          The original comment accuses all religions of “proving” their truth claims by “forcing everyone else to shut up.” That is a bald faced lie. I live in RI, and I attended rallies recently which were led by Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy, who supported the right of a young atheist student not to be subjected to viewing a religious prayer banner in the auditorium at her public high school. I can tell you that there were plenty of people–even not particularly religious people–who said, “It’s just a banner. It isn’t hurting her. Just don’t look at it.” But these religious leaders and members of their congregations stood up for the right of citizens to believe or not believe according to their own free will. They said unequivocally that it is wrong for such religious symbols and ideas to appear in public institutions where they acquire the status of state-sanctioned ideas and send a message to anyone who doesn’t agree that “you don’t belong here.”
          To get back to the point about truth-claims not based on objectively-observable data–even in science, it takes training to be able to observe and discern certain phenomena and data. If it were all just out there and obvious to everybody, we wouldn’t need or value the special expertise and training of scientists. We’d all know everything already. But it doesn’t work like that. I could stare at a colony of ants all day, but I won’t observe what a biologist will observe, and the biologist won’t observe what a trained physicist will observe, and the physicist won’t observe what the military strategist observes, and none of us will observe what a 6-year old observes. Everywhere you look, there is more than meets the eye. You have to be trained to observe and discern things, and none of us can ever be all-seeing or all-knowing.

          • Ayn Marx 666

            I did not say that all religions did this all the time, but rather that they are all tempted to do so because they are unable to prove themselves legitimately—if they had been able to do so, they would have done so by now, but incredibly intelligent people, at least some of whom must be able to see the world as it is, still hold extremely divergent views of these claims.

            For examples of these claims, I’d say the best were soteriological:  how are you going to prove that if I do not accept Jesus’ notional sacrifice on the Cross that I will suffer eternal torment therefor because of the stain of Original Sin?  How are you going to disprove that I won’t receive a reward of 72 white raisins if I cleave to what are held to be the doctrines of Muhammed?  How can you prove that I will be in a state of “impurity” if my food were poured by a woman in menses, or if I touched a Torah or a dead body?

            How will one prove that the Earth did in fact stand still during one of Joshuah’s battles, or that it has four literal corners, or that pi==3, or that sex not open to the possibility of conception were evil, or that a zygote were my spiritual and legal equal?

            The only way one can “observe” data backing up any of these is if one has been trained to do so, and (here is the point) experience shows that the training must be exact in order for the observations to match—and even then, men (mostly) and women basing their observations on the world as defined by the same books and traditions still manage to come up with different views.

            No-one who had not heard the story of Noakh would independently come to the conclusion that the rainbow were a sign set in the heavens by a god as a symbol of his unwillingness to destroy most of humanity with a flood; aliens in Proxima Centauri would come up with something very close to our Newtonian and Einsteinian orbital mechanics if allowed to do so and capable therefor, if they were of a scale large enough to make them relevant—and if they lived on the nanometer scale, they would come up with something much like our quantum mechanics first…..

    • kbp

      “—even Buddhism was spread in early days by the sword.”

      Citation please?

      • Ayn Marx 666

        I might be wrong about that; years ago I read an account of the early years of Ashoka’s conquests which claimed that he was Buddhist from the start and even claimed to be spreading the sangha, his later peaceful pronouncements being at worst hypocritical or at best spoken with the confidence of a man who has already done all the killing he’s needed to do (or felt like).

        The Wikipedia entry on the gentleman says otherwise, so for the moment I must withdraw my claim in its certainty as I check to see if I have any decent evidence backing me up.  Thank-you if you have helped me correct an error in my knowledge.

        I will also examine the history of Buddhism in Ceylon, Burma, and Thailand, to see if they followed the general pattern of rulers’ being converted and then forcing—gently or otherwise—their subjects to do the same.

        But again, thanks.

  • skeptic150

    This issue is muddled by the creeping Christian theocracy in this country - Christian theocrats altered the Pledge, made the national motto In God We Trust (clearly endorsement of monotheism over polytheism and nontheism), put In God We Trust on money and buildings, etc.  So, it seems to me younger and undereducated citizens have an impression this is a bona fide Christian nation/theocracy and any objection to this is improper.  When I/we (nontheists) point out the inappropriate creeping Christian theocracy in America, I/we are all too frequently called unpatriotic, blasphemous, etc. when in actuality the behavior of Christian theocrats prompts our responses.
    Our Constitution and laws are, and should be, secular.  Personally, I think Christian theocracy has gone too far in this country with the altering of the Pledge, the theocratic motto, putting the theocratic motto on our money, and letting religion (commonly “Christianity”) influence, adversely in my opinion, public policy (education, military actions, health care, etc.).
    And, there is no evolution creation debate- evolution is observable and is a fact – the debate is purely political and in the minds of theists who either cannot or choose not to understand evolution.
    Finally, I all too often hear this country was founded on Christian principles.  But I have yet to find any uniquely “Christian principles” and there is no mention of human sacrifice, resurrection, prayer, afterlife, heaven/hell in our Constitution (if anything, this country has a significant foundation of racism, sexism, genocide, and theft- “freedom” and “liberty” really only applied to white male property owners).
    In Reason I Trust (not an imaginary friend)

  • Charles Vigneron

    Repeat lies enough and the truth will become lost in the crowd.

    • BHA in Vermont

       Right, just follow the presidential campaigns! :)

  • Ellen Dibble

    Mr. Barry says that “it” was originated actually with the Baptists before Williams.  I missed something.  He says some now say “it” originated with the Communists.  What did I miss?  I can’t imagine anything about religion coming from Communism, which taught people a fine scorn for anything to do with religion or God, unless I am much mistaken.
        If the idea is Communism wanted to stand up to religion on equal terms, as separate entities — I doubt it.  They didn’t want competition.  No separate parties, God and Mammon.  Nope.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       He said that the idea that separation comes from Communism is wrong.

      • Ayn Marx 666

        They say it came from Communism because when many Americans hear the word “Communism” their brains turn off except for a voice screaming “BAD!!!”

        (This is not at all entirely unjustified:  just as we can hold Christians and Muslims and Jews and Scotsmen responsible for what real people professing to be in these groups and ignore the “no true Scotsman” defence, we should make anyone professing communism of any stripe—including my techno-anarcho-communism—to explain how they are different from Stalin and Mao, and how they wouldn’t do what they actually did, regardless of what their stated intents were [as opposed to Nazism and Fascism, which made subjugation of races and people their _stated_ desiderata])

        In any event, if they didn’t think “Communism” would get this response, they wouldn’t use it…they’d fall back on “socialist” or “European” or “Kenyan”.

        • Ellen Dibble

          Wow, it’s considered Iron Curtain and Big Brother is controlling you — to separate religion from government?  Whose brilliant idea was that…  As you say, if it evokes a snap renunciation, play that chord.  I suppose.  UNFAIR!

          • Ayn Marx 666

            I think it was James Michael Curley who observed, ‘Politics ain’t bean-bag.’  Politics are largely about who gets what, both goods and status, and these are things over which primates have often shown themselves willing to kill…so, yes, it is unfair, but it is also entirely expectable, and could be far, far, worse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drpmeade Paul S Meade

    As a freethinker and not particularly religious individual, I find this open discussion of the roots of the origins of Our Country’s first amendment principles extremely enlightening.

    John Barry’s book is going on my Amazon wishlist right away and should be on every evangelical religious right politician’s reading list.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Having the government issue marriage licenses is an example of blending of church and state.  The government should give civil unions to everyone.

    • Jasoturner

       That’s a cunning thought.

    • BHA in Vermont

       I think it is simply a matter of convenience. People in some countries have 2 ceremonies. One in the church and one in the town hall. Civil marriage is all about property rights and other legal matters. It has NOTHING to do with “one man, one woman” religious thought.

      The kings were all about power over the people.
      The churches and other religious institutions are all about power over the people.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If Barry links up philosophy in England in that era to religion in the colonies, I think I’m going to buy that book…
        I am very interested in the relation to the Indians here too.  Did Williams know Peter Folger, an interpreter who went to Nantucket… an ancestor of mine?

  • Anonymous

    The Church should restrain itself from stamping its moral values on the legal code of society at large. 
    At the same time, the State must refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the Church: whether in ecclesiastical matters or in relations between the church and its members, or others who freely and knowingly associate with institutions the Church operates pursuant to its religious mission.
    More significantly, the Church must be afforded full liberty to voice its positions on matters of morality or conscience whether or not they agree with the societal mores of the day.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Which ‘church’?  The HYPOCRITICAL Child-Abusers?
         WHY should they have much say in anything, as they PROVE themselves as HYPOCRITES, AND FRAUDS?

    • skeptic4321

      “More significantly, the Church must be afforded full liberty to voice its positions on matters of morality or conscience whether or not they agree with the societal mores of the day”
      Let them babble all they want on the street corners, in the churches, on private property, in churches/places of “worship,” etc. – but please keep them and their Bronze Age mythology out of politics, health care policy decisions, and public education.

  • Jack Marshak

    It was former President Jimmy Carter who declared in his 2006 book  Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,

    that Israel’s options included a “system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed”

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      You just can’t get on topic today, I see.

  • Elizabeth in RI

    Roger Williams must be rolling over in his grave to see how totally beholden to and focused on religion so many Rhode Islanders now are. The prayer banner fiasco and the venom that flowed from so many “good Christians” (talk about an oxymoron) toward a courageous young woman who understood the Constitutional violation that a few sentences on that represented – and more importantly – the not so subtle suggestion that if you didn’t belong to the group that approved of that language then you were wrong, was truly sickening! And now Bishop Tobin continues to lash out against our governor for refusing to abide by the Catholic Churches teachings. I applaud all those that stand in Roger Williams shadow and stand up for freedom FROM religion – as well as those that stand up for religious freedom. You can’t have the latter without the former!!! Why don’t those fearing the “assault on the Constitution” seem to remember this?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Barry says of our founders, invoking “the blessings of liberty” — “it doesn’t mean they weren’t devout.”
        That is a word there, “devout.”  To me, it means respect for others, in their beliefs as well as their way of life, and it also means respect for Power that is beyond the power on earth, be it of money or force (government, elites).  It is a word that connotes respect that draws on the unconscious, on the conscience, and I like to hear it used.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Sovereign power comes from the people–we’ve neglected a lot of lessons from Roger Williams.

    • BHA in Vermont

       Sovereign power comes from the people WITH MONEY.

  • Sanjay A

    A solid piece of scholarship… a compelling narrative. However, the question of colonialism and colonies remains unexplored. 

  • Julie

    What of religious liberty? 

    Coincidentally reading Roger Williams’ “Key Into the Language of America” (featuring language and observations he gleaned from living amoung the Narranganetts) written as a guide for English “duty” of religious conversion of any Native Person the reader might “bump into” in the New World

    …he seems despairing for their souls the whole way through. Would his new secular Providence leave room for religious liberty? It seems not, his eye was on conversion.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      But he made the extraordinary step of saying that people of different beliefs had the right to let their fate be decided after they died, not by the state in this life.

      • Ayn Marx 666

        True:  Calvin was a sort of Calvinist, and he imposed a religious dictatorship immediately that he could.

    • Ayn Marx 666

      I’m more sanguine: as I state elsewhere, I’ve gained the impression that Williams was so pure a Calvinist that he thought proselytising basically useless…hence his despair.

    • Roy Mac

      Can you say that in English?

  • BHA in Vermont

    Anyone who is religious should be all for separation of church and state. Otherwise they will be very unhappy when the government is run on the “rules” of a religion different than theirs.

    For example, let’s say the sitting president gets to run the country based on the religion he/she follows. Further, let’s say Romney wins in November (and for the sake of this country I sincerely hope he does NOT). How will the Evangelicals feel when they have to follow Mormon doctrine, which they consider a false religion? 

    Instead of the President setting policy based on his/her religion, let the Congress decide. They would get NOTHING done (oh, that wouldn’t be a change, would it?) because everyone would be arguing from their personal religious view (oh, also not much change from current).

  • MIssy

    I. Rl
    I believe there is a fine example of Williams influence between his life and today. The tolerance of the colony of Rhode island drew a group of jews to found the first synagogue in Newport. And that synagogue has a letter from George Washington articulating the separation of church and state.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Did people in Rhode Island have to belong to the church in order to vote?  I believe that was the case in the Bay State.

  • Bpaullaf

    Mr Barry said there was no reference to a creator in the US Constitution. What about all men being “created equally”?

    • Hal from East Boston

      “We hold theae truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal . . .” appears in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The Constitution does not refer to any Deity. Mr. Barry is correct. We have a godless Constitution and a secular government, and it is to our great good fortune that this is so.

    • Roy Mac

      What other misunderstandings can we clear up for you?  Creationism?

  • Hal from East Boston

    Highest compliments to Mr. Barry for his work on Roger Williams.
    We have ver ynearly the right balance of church and state in the US and we need to continue defending it against the snipers who regularly take their potshots at it.
    The story of Roger Williams is continuous with that of the five Quakers condemned to death in Boston, four of whom were executed, for the crime of being Quakers and refusing to leave Massachusetts. The popular resentment that rose up against these executions was the beginning of the end for the Puritan domination of government.
    Three things come out of this history:
    Human liberty is not safe in the hands of any religious authority
    Religious government its arbitrary, bloody-handed and cruel
    The separation of church and state is the greatest blessing that ever befell any people in the history of the world. Without it there can be no true religious liberty

  • KR

    We are human-beings…Human=of the earth and being=of the Light. We often struggle between the two identities. Note: a) [Hu]man-made laws (including those of “the Church” – whatever this means) are limited, controlling, agenda-ridden laws written on paper..they are temporal, disposable…b) Spiritual laws are laws of “the Universe” which are limitless, free, timeless - written within the heart of each person in the language of his/her own specific Truth / understanding….Which of these 2 laws truly governs? What is truly “free”?…Each person has the freedom of choice at any given moment…to choose to be governed by a) or b) regardless…The current political system needs improvement, to be sure. // Toward that end, perhaps more important than the question of separation of church and state, is the separation of [hu]man from being (or higher Truth)…where we forget to be guided by what we innately know is “Right” in any given situation – by succumbing to the mortal thought plane. If each of us can get our own personal balance back in-check, we will no longer have any tension. // PS – OnPoint Team: I have a request re: a new show topic to send in, please email me. Thank you.

    • at

       This would be true if there was no such things as hormones and malfunctioning neural systems and people actually knew what they were going to think next.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I’ve got to say that this was one of the best hours of On Point, ever.

    I usually enjoy the first hours more than the second hours, but you simply *must* have John Barry back for at *least* a couple more shows.  Please consider this whenever you are not sure of a good topic.  ;-)

    There is a lot more to discuss on this and the myriad of related subjects.  I would hope to hear how it is that many folks like Rick Santorum always refer to the Declaration of Independence for “proof” that we were founded as a “Christian” nation; so maybe in their heart of hearts they know this is not true?  Because if it was the case, then they would be able to point to the the Constitution for proof.

    And why did Jefferson put the references to God in the Declaration?  Where did Thomas Jefferson of John Adams (who wrote the Massachusetts Constitution which was a direct model for the US Constitution) and others fit into this paramount issue?


    • skeptic4321

      There are no references to a specific god in the Declaration of Independence- the “creator” mentioned was the contemporary deist vision of “god,” certainly not the Judeo-Christian god- and if the educated deists of that time knew what we know today about the age of the universe and all the other “gaps” that a “creator” filled, I am convinced they would, for the most part, be agnostics, ignostics, or atheists. The god of the gaps has essentially vanished yet lingers in the minds of those who can’t seem to let go of an imaginary friend.

      • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

         The Declaration says that we are “endowed by our Creator” with a list of rights — this was one of the points in the discussion; that our government and our rights are not linked to a God or a religion.  Their authority doesn’t come from religion.

        Also, the important distinction about the “pursuit of happiness” and what liberty *is* were all a part of this discussion.

        Our country is based on the Constitution, not  the Declaration; and there are some very important differences.


      • Terry Tree Tree

        ignostic?  That’s a new one to me.  Meaning?

        • at

            Most/(All) ignostics ignore the question of God.

          • at

            That should be in quotes

        • skeptic4321

          Meaning one can’t have a meaningful discussion about god until one defines god.
          And “at” is incorrect.
          This should help:

          • Terry Tree Tree

            Thanks for the explaination, and reply.

  • Ed

    A very good book that discusses why at this point as a society we can’t agree on anything – see Brad Gregory ‘The Unintended Reformation: how a religious revolution secularized society’ Harvard, 2012.

  • kenrubenstein

    It doesn’t matter to me what dead people wanted or not. I’ll go with Woody Guthrie, “This land is your land, this land is my land.” We’re not all religious, and we’re certainly not all Christians. So religion needs to stay out of our affairs. They’re free to do their thing, not mine.

  • Ed

    “The Bible has contradictions that can’t be resolved by any man…”, true. But for Catholics, God interprets the Bible authoritatively through the Church. ‘He who hears you, hears me.’ The Church, not the Bible, is the ‘bulwark of truth’ Timothy.

    Protestants, for all their good, are inevitably in store for confict over interpretation. And we are a Protestant country in founding.

    Still, the Church doesn’t impose, but proposes. And it has to present reasons.

    “King James and King Charles moved England back toward a Catholic form of worship’- true, but Calvinistic, not toward a Catholic theology.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      WHICH Catholic hears the cries of child VICTIMS, over the cries to hide and protect CRIMINAL priests?

      • Roy Mac

        Ed is not a responder.  ‘He’ is a bot from out in the ether, possibly the vatican.  It doesn’t do any good to respond to those Ed posts, since there is nobody behind them.

        • Terry Tree Tree

          I choose to expose the HYPOCRICY, for what it is! 
             Ed and William have indicated that they are Catholic, and keep trying to advance the Catholic diversions from REPULSIVE CATHOLIC CRIMES.  I try to remind people of what Catholics are trying to divert from.
             For this, I have had several names, slurs, and insinuations attached to my name.  I have indications that I have been banned from commenting MANY times, for pointing out the diversions, and reminding HYPOCRITES of THEIR CRIMES AND SINS, according to their OWN words.
             Since I use the truth, and THEY use lies, I’ll risk being banned again!

    • RobertLongView

       we are a Protestant country in founding.”  
      Not so sure that Jefferson was a Protestant.  at least he thought the minority jew and muslim had a place — maybe Judeo-Christian foundings and the Royal Colonies the Ch of England?

      • Ed

        Jefferson was a Christian but not a usual Protestant. But I was referring to the Protestants in the 1640s and later, not to the U.S. government.

  • gibsonpolk

    Religion is the height of moral relativism, since one’s morality will change based on what religion one chooses (an arbitrary choice).  While religions tend to agree on the biggies (murder, theft, adultery, incest), this is because we share a greater moral core based on our instinctive empathy (think golden rule).

  • Mako

    Oh, booya. Love this subject + the author. As a native RIer, there weren’t too many things I was proud of growing up there- a cloistered anti-intellectual provincial narrow-minded place filled with 3rd grade educated Sicilians, Portugese, + Mafiosa, with an powerful oppressive Catholic church (70% of the state- highest in US) that had a vested interest in keeping people poor, ignorant, and obedient.

    But after adulthood, I realized the greatness of Roger Williams and his brilliant deeply moral concept of church/state separation, which became the foundations for our incipient nation’s freedoms. “Don’t tread on me,” to church or state, makes little RI a beacon for the country + world, and a refuge to all. Even now it has big pops of Hmong and other peoples fleeing death and persecution

    And think about a country so new + empty that you could be sentenced to death for apostasy, escape and go 35 miles, found a new state, and become it’s leader. He was also the only pioneer in Indian relations- unfortunately by 1632, we had already committed the first Indian genocide of the Pequots, all the rest were wiped out in the 1670′s.


  • Sy2502

    When American Christians talk of “freedom of religion” they really mean “freedom to impose their religion”. Think of the debate over institutionalized prayer in public schools, and ask yourself: how would these Christians feel if we said “very well, we’ll have prayer in school. Each day we’ll have a prayer of a different faith. On Mondays, kids will bow in the direction of Mecca and pray to Allah. On Tuesdays, they will chant Hindu prayers to Shivah. Buddhist prayer on Wednesday, Thursdays are for Wiccan invocations, and the Lord’s Prayer on Fridays”. Yes, do let me know how these Christians for religious freedom would take that.

    • Zero

       I like to tell Christians, “Okay, we’ll teach creationism if we get to teach Nietzsche is the same classroom; a philosophy class because God isn’t testable.” 

      • RememberHypatia

        Dennet suggests that all that is really necessary is to teach comparative religion. 

    • Ed

      The ‘freedom of religion’ is the freedom to practice one’s religion and to live according to one’s conscience. Prayer in public school is not an issue in this debate.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Prayer in Public School HAS, and WILL be an issue, because some claim THAT IS their freedom of religion!
           The years that I had to listen to prayer in Public School, I NEVER heard an identifyable Native American, Muslim, Buddist, Taoist,  or MOST of the 143 ‘religions’ prayer.  ‘Christian’, 99.9% and possibly ‘Jewish’ MOST of the rest!
          HOW is THAT ‘freedom of religion’?  There WERE children of other faiths in some of those classes!

  • Tina

    If the top 1% keep saying that students must study math and technology to grow our economy, where will the brilliant students with minds like this guest come from and what will happen to their potential contributions to our overall understanding of our lives and history and their contexts?!!!

  • nj_v2

    Excellent program! I got to listen to the whole hour (or 47 minutes, or whatever the actual running time works out to be) on the rebroadcast driving back from work.

    Good historians are a treasure. I wish i had to time read; would love to read Mr Barry’s book.

  • RememberHypatia

    You wrote

    ” Religions are not what they claim to be, and really can never be. A
    truly religious being would be one who personally experiences the
    reality of a higher consciousness. Such persons if they are known at all
    (and most of them are and were not) are the actual bases of all
    religions, but after that person is gone (and of course all persons
    recognized as such were not so enlightened) it is just misunderstanding,
    the interpretation of things that cannot be thought or spoken, into
    thoughts and words, because that is all that people without direct
    access to consciousness beyond their “I” have. That is the level they
    are operating on and it has as much to do with the consciousness of
    future man (which is what enlightenment, heaven, etc really is) as “a
    nail is like a requiem” — as Gurdjieff would say.”

    I am quoting you here because when I hit the add more comments button my reply options disappear and I cannot respond to your original post.

    Firstly I would like to say that I have been reading your posts for some time, and have always suspected that beneath you continual encouragement for us to understand the overarching influence of the mechanisms of our nervous system always pushing us into, as you say “polar” views, there was the odor of the mystic about you.

    This is not a criticism; the view you allude to above is pure mysticism.  That is to say, you are distinguishing between belief as it is understood by the contemporary popular religions (which simply is another way of saying “heart-felt guess”, and an actual experience of something beyond the usual confines of the mechanisms of conception.

    I would guess that your knowledge of such matters is not entirely conceptual.

    Because of this I have decided to do something radical.  I am one of the persons that you describe. I am someone who directly experiences a higher consciousness, and all pop theories about enlightened persons will tell you that someone like this will never admit to it, but that is just a guess by someone who personally has no access to such as we are referring to.

    If you wish I will discuss these matters with you here, and now, in public.  Something that is never done, and you may soon see why.

    I will check back to see if you have read this intermittently.  If you read it and have no desire for such a dialogue pleas note it here so that I know not to check for a response.

    Choiceless compassion is the atmosphere in which higher consciousness abides.  This quality is not absent for one second if one’s awareness is really proceeding on This level.  There is no way around this, it arises simultaneously with an actual physical expansion of consciousness, not as a concept but as a expanding energetic force.

    I look forward to your response.

    • at

       Well. . . Madame, I have seldom been made such a tempting offer at bedtime. 
      I have visions of agape, like a necklace of pearls strung across the
      weekend, your wisdom like a secret torrent of light illuming first one
      sphere then another. Stranger things have happened.

      Fair warning though, we will have to reinitiate our topic often or be reduced to a narrow window almost impossible to use.

       I am not trying to be obstructionistic in the least — it’s your show
      – but I see some things that really shouldn’t be described too clearly;
      just for the sake of those who will sooner or later understand these
      very same things. Am I being too obtuse? Hey, apparently I am a mystic. 

      How do you intend to deal with such matters?  If we converse about what
      it is I think you are referring to I can see a myriad of problems right

      For some reason I have the feeling that you and I will be able to
      communicate on this matter pretty accurately. However, you must hope
      that there will be some benefit to someone else if we have such an
      exchange in public.

      Which brings us back to the manner in which you intend to proceed. Will you define all your terms?  Where to start?

      I am intrigued; I look forward to your reply.

      • RememberHypatia

        Since you quoted Gurdjieff I assume you
        are familiar with the lectures he gave on linguistic problems in
        teaching or passing on what he referred to as esoteric information (a
        very specific type of information that would be closer to a
        programming language than a merely informational language such as is
        used on these political blogs — information that was not just form
        but also action) In other words: information that if
        comprehended would effect a change not only in the knowledge of the
        student/audience but would alter their being. Being: of course being
        another specialized concept in G lingo, meaning sort of altering the
        scope and quality of action one is capable of, including the actions
        of perception, and apperception. The important factor being
        that all language is relative to the perspective of the members of a
        conversation, it is not that accurate communication is impossible, by
        the discipline of restriction and specialization, science, and even
        some other fields communicate with the required accuracy for the
        different levels of their professions.  And G went about
        establishing a method of communication for his group of students that
        afforded great accuracy because it was all relative to a central
        element that was both information and being, that is to say there was
        a working if continually evolving conceptual map for their activity,
        but this central element was also experiential, in that it was both a
        practice and a physical transformation of the nervous and endocrine
        systems. No matter the specifics of G’s system, they are not
        important here, and I would prefer to use other terms, but I believe
        we could use this same central concept in order to increase the
        accuracy of our exchange. The meaning in all concepts we use will be
        relative to effective practice and the goal of that practice — which
        is an experience of a quantum leap in the quality of one’s
        consciousness, that is, a change in the very mechanism of awareness
        and self-awareness that is vastly beyond their present real-time life
        experience both perceptually and apperceptively, and in the sphere of
        what are referred to as the higher emotions.

        • at

           I gladly accept these parameters, but wouldn’t the accuracy of such a conversation depend on the participants all having had the same experience?

          • RememberHypatia

            Change of heart; to much hostility here. Use hidden services: SGS (Solid Gone Society)

  • Jack Marshak

    Ex-Jew, and now a Orthodox monk in the Holy Orthodox Church, Brother Nathanael, warns of the “Curse of Synagogue and State” in his Youtube video


    His Zionget channel on Youtube is extremely educational, truthful, and interesting.

    • ThePope

      “The funnier they dress, the less they know.” — Jan Cox

      • Jack Marshak

        Is that what your social worker told you?

        • ClementeHass123

          I couldn’t have done a better job of defining  your ignorance than you have just done yourself.  The man in the funny hat is soliciting money form naive Christians; why doesn’t he get an honest job instead of spreading lies and paranoia?

          • Jack Marshak

            He’s a monk in the Greek Orthodox Church who happens to be educating people in regards to the perils of militarism, zionism, globalism, and banker bailouts.

            Most people have no intention of burying their head in the sand and ignoring reality as you have.

          • ClamontD


          • Jack Marshak

            I agree, free Palestine.

        • SimtexApostle

           See those quote marks Jack? See the dash and the name? That is an
          attribution that tells you who told him. In the future you will not have
          to ask such asinine questions because you now know a secret of
          elementary grammar.

          • Jack Marshak

            Are you his social worker?

        • Steve_T

           It is you!

    • PPPete80lbsHM

      This is actually funny and truly reflects what spirituality is to a debased intellect like Jack’s. (don’t believe me? just check next door at the other hour on Fri and see what he has to say — obviously not intelligent enough to be ashamed to be such an idiot) Really people you should watch this. This guy is such a crack-pot that you have to be blind to miss the micro-expressions of the naughty little boy getting away with stealing cookies right in front of you. Check it out. It is priceless.

      • Jack Marshak

        Debased intellect?

        You must be talking about Israel:

        -stealing land from Palestinians
        -practicing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians living in Israel (20% of the population)
        -forcing Palestinians to live in concentration camp like conditions in Gaza and the West Bank
        -denying statehood to the Palestinians.

        If you find those points amusing,

        then make sure you send your check to A.I.P.A.C. so that their lobbying for the destruction of the Palestinians can continue.

        I have no doubt that you are morally and ethically deficient enough to find that amusing.

        • Steve_T

           Moda, is that you?

  • roberthagedorn

    Google First Scandal.

  • Ed

    No one is asking for a non-secular government. The ‘right’ to abortion, for example, shouldn’t be denied because it’s against theological teaching, it should be denied because it’s against reason.

    • Zero

      Where ‘life’ begins is a philosophical and theological debate that is nonetheless indeterminable, thus the decisions (among other reasons) ought to be left to the woman. 

  • Ed

    The government hasn’t exempted that: they’ve defined the Church’s business as narrowly as possible (not inlcuding their health care or educational outreach), only including those who are of that faith, working for members of that faith. Mother Teresa’s nuns wouldn’t qualify because they serve people of other faiths as well. And then they’ve exempted only those involved in this narrowest possible definition of religion.

    And what happened to defense of a person’s conscience?

  • at

    The latest from Bernie — one of the few good guys on the hill.


    • at

      Very sorry
      I put that on the wrong hour.

      • http://game-avatar.net/ game avatar

        what are you talking about ?

        • Zero

           There’s a political conversation on the comment section on the first hour of OnPoint.

  • Ed

    How come the excerpt above quotes killing of Protestants and doesn’t mention the Catholic martyrs, for example those in Elizabethan England?

    Also, Islam doesn’t recognize separation of church and state, indeed, the principles of Islam should apply to the political and social sphere (Shari’a). But that’s not the case in Christianity, which leaves the secular sphere to lay people. It provides moral principles, but does not carry out the government.

    • Jack Marshak

      I hear what you’re saying Ed and I understand fully where you are coming from.

      Apparently ‘open minded’ On Point has decided that prejudice against Palestinians is perfectly fine, but if you dare to criticize the ethnic-cleansing being practiced by the apartheid state of Israel in order to create a (non-Palestinian) ‘Jewish State’, then you or your views don’t count for anything.

      • Wafa

        The israelis must be really bad at ethnic -cleansing if the population of arab -Israelis is growing fast at 20% of the population . You better read some real news and not the lying electronic antifada . I am a Israeli arab by the way and I love Israel

    • ElfmanNW

      The killing of Protestants by Catholics
      and the killing of Catholics by Protestants both show how important
      it is to keep religion out of government. That applies to Islam as
      well, and I would not want to see Islamic Shari’a law to ever take
      hold in the US. Fortunately that is a non existent threat here in
      the US. The real problem in the US is “Christian Shari’a: being
      imposed by federal, state, and local government.

  • Ed

    Bottom line is that if I’m a Catholic and the government is requiring me to do things that are against my conscience, against well established doctrines of my religion, the government has overstepped itself.

    The president is bought and paid for by Planned P. and by the homosexual lobby, and this conflict was inevitable.

    • Jhalshawavery

      your ignorance is mind boggling, another brainwashed rep sounds like to me

    • Zero

      No.  If you are a Catholic and you open a business, you cannot wave laws that everyone else has to follow.  That would mean that religion is overstepping.  This is a business law, under our secular constitution.  If churches want to enter into the business world, then they have to follow secular law. 

      • Brett

        Zero, I was going to reply to Ed’s comment in very much the same manner as your reply. If churches wish to broaden their endeavors by involving themselves in businesses to increase their revenues, then they need to follow the same standards upheld from any current business law. The Catholic Church–as far as employment matters that pertain directly to employees who work within the context of the Church itself–is exempt from such laws. 

        As far as the president being “bought and paid for by Planned P. and the homosexual lobby,” well, that’s just too ridiculous for a reply. 

      • Gregg

        Government cannot make any law they please and enforce it willy nilly. If the law is unjust (it is) and unconstitutional (ditto) then it can be challenged in court. This is what is happening.

    • Fassaf

       Bullshit!  If your conscience requires you to offer human sacrifice, will you argue that your conscience is above the law and the general well-being?

      • Winston Smith

        The current legal term for human sacrifice is called “Abortion”.  And groups such as Planned Parenthood are all for human sacrifice if it is convenient.

    • noname

      the government is not requiring you to do anything.  Its requiring employers to provide full health insurance to its employees

  • Ed

    Roger Williams was reacting against the Puritan theocracy in Massachusetts. But even with a secular state, Roger Williams would assert the priority of the individual’s conscience, that it deserved protection (which is why one can’t force someone to convert also). Today’s secular government is trying to force Catholics and others to act against their conscience, in an unprecedented over-reach by the government. Roger Williams would be against it.

  • Fassaf

    My conscience is above all religions.

  • Roger Runnalls – Wantage, NJ

    If god said it, and you believe it, you then are delusional.  Nuff said.

  • Gregg

    43 Catholic institutions have joined to file suit against the Federal Government’s contraception mandate. What was called a Republican “War on Contraception” is really Obama’s war on religion.

    • noname


    • Meiphukingdiqq

       Obama’s so called “war on Religion” is typical Republican projection.
      The Christian Right has clearly declared war on secular America, and any defense of secular America is spun as a “war on religion”.

      That’s all Republicans do is attack everybody else then cry foul when somebody actually fights back.
      It’s like the bully in “A Christmas Story” who’s constantly taunting Ralphy, until Ralphy has enough and fights back and all the bully does is ball up and cry like he’s the victim.
      That shit might fly with the Faux news crowd, but stop insulting the rest of America’s intelligence.

  • Pingback: Switch it up « runningonjava

  • Paxtriot

    Oh, come on! We all know that Roger Williams was in reality born in Kenya in the same communist training camp that conceived Obama. He was sent back in time through black magic to corrupt the christian nation that america should be.  If you watch Pox and believe Obama wages a war on religion, you should have no problem believing that too.

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Jasmin Torres helps classmate Brianna Rameles with a worksheet at the Diloreto Magnet School in New Britain, Conn., Wednesday Feb. 22, 2012. (AP/Charles Krupa)

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Uproar over development plans for the Grand Canyon. We go to the Navajo Nation and the Canyon floor to see what’s at stake.

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In this Thursday, Sep. 11, 2014 photo, Middle Eastern leaders stand together during a family photo with of the Gulf Cooperation Council and regional partners at King Abdulaziz International Airport’s Royal Terminal in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

President Obama says he will build a coalition of partners in the Middle East to combat ISIS. We’ll do a reality check on who’s really stepping up for what.

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