Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Devilishly Convenient Myth: Deeply Held Religious Beliefs

Hobby Lobby: How the Catholic Supremes
 "Stepped In It" While Pretending to be Judges

Many Americans watching the old Catholic Supremes delivering the now famous Hobby Lobby verdict were still probably comfortable muttering to themselves something along the lines of "Oh well, it IS religious freedom, so I guess it's okay, right? After all, that's why the Pilgrims founded America in the first place."

Now, "religious freedom" -- as it's spelled out in the Bill of Rights -- has everything to do with stopping someone else from telling you that "You'd better start 'believing' what I say, or I'm going to shoot you, steal your cattle, sell your children in slavery and burn down your house. Plus, of course, you'll be going to hell."

Hobby Lobby: The conveniently "Catholic" Supremes [image source]
Although the Supremes weren't, in reality, dealing with anything as stark and definite as this example, they claimed they were, rushing piously even farther out on what was already a really, really rickety limb. The phrase the old Catholic men on the Court selected for the grotesque thing they had just ruled that the Constitution "protected" was to be called "deeply held religious belief."

Notably, the women on the Court wouldn't touch the thing with a stick, and, in fact, spoke right up to say --  in no uncertain terms -- that they not only thought it sucked, but that they expected it to suck even more once all the "deeply held religious beliefs" began, inevitably, oozing out of the wood work from every dark, damp, little cranny.

The Supreme women were right. A mere few hours after the Supreme decision became public, the "ooze" had already become a problem. 

Emboldened, the "carpet baggers of righteousness" had, suddenly, discovered that they, too, had all sorts of "deeply held religious beliefs" -- many of which they had never previously even realized that they held. Nonetheless, now that the "cat was out of the bag," they not only held all these suddenly discovered, yet strangely unlikely, "deeply held religious beliefs," but each and every one of them was equally suddenly suffering under the horrible social and judicial oppression of not being able to, willy nilly, force someone else to adopt the same "deeply held religious beliefs" or, of course, face the consequences.

For a nice Catholic Sunday School boy like Antonioni Scalia, this looked like a perfect job for the Supremes. With nothing more than a stroke of the pen, he and his buddies would guaranteed their after life opportunity to be walking through St Peter's "Pearly Gates" to an eternity of bliss delivered by no one less than an eternally grateful God, himself.

MeanMesa suspects the Supreme Sunday School crowd may have called a few Cardinals to "firm up" the deal before they publicly committed.

Since the Catholic Supremes have pronounced that the new currency of the day will now be these "deeply held religious beliefs," let's take a closer look at what that awkwardly pregnant phrase might possibly mean -- if anything

It has to mean something, right?

Roberts Court Super PACs Rewrite the Bible
 The Catholic Supremes may dream of being Constantine, 
but this still isn't the Council of Nicaea.

Just a bit about the general nature of lawsuits

This Hobby Lobby lawsuit is a quite abnormal sort of affair -- it really isn't particularly similar to what might be considered "barnyard common" matter which must be settled in a court with jurisdiction. A typical lawsuit has some typical parts, but any lawsuit which has scratched and clawed its way through the lower courts to finally reach the Supremes is almost certainly one with more complex issues.

The "typical" components of a "normal" lawsuit are fairly straightforward. There is almost always an "injured party" able present valid evidence of having illegally suffered some form of "material damage." For example, it is extremely difficult to successfully sue someone for simply being "nasty" or to get a restraint order issued simply because someone "creeps me out." A court wants to see "material damage."

When such a case reaches court, the plaintiff has taken the case to trial seeking "relief" from whatever thing, institution or person which has wrongfully inflicted the "material damage," seeking compensation in some form for the damage and probably also asking for some sort of judicial ruling which will stop whatever practice had caused the damage in the future. There are many, many forms of this, but these ideas rough out a general picture.

Lawsuits which reach the Supremes have an additional quality which many lay people don't completely understand. In most cases Supreme Court cases plaintiffs are seeking relief from "material damages" caused by a law which has been passed by Congress, making the US Federal Government the defendant. Often, the exact "material damages" in such complaints arise from some element of the subject law preventing the plaintiff from enjoying his Constitutional rights.

The Green's claim
 of "injury" and "material damage"

In the Hobby Lobby case the particular "material damage" was alleged to have been inflicted un-Constitutionally on the Green family [owners of Hobby Lobby and plaintiffs in the case] by the ACA's provision mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives runs into trouble right away.

Normally, a plaintiff's tangible evidence of having suffered "material damage" might appear in court as photographs of an injured body or automobile, hospital bills, depositions from attending doctors and so on. In other cases such evidence might be accounting records, relevant correspondence. There are settled "rules of evidence," and courts at trial are usually quite insistent that these statutory thresholds be met. The attorneys representing the parties in such suits may argue about parts of the evidence, but the judge will, as necessary, rule on each part of the evidence, settling such contentions, before beginning to consider the merits of the case.

However, this leaves us with the matter of the precise "material damage" suffered by the Greens.

Presumably, what serves as "material damage" in the Hobby Lobby case lies at the end of a very long, very tenuous thread which, somehow, is "implied" to lead straight to St. Peter's famous mythical "Gates of Judgment." Other than this, the Greens seem to emerge essentially unharmed by cooperating with a statutorily defined, legal insurance regulation law requiring specific types of health coverage.

The issue becomes even more contradictory with settled law when the Greens fail to present evidence that 1. they will be denied access to a mythological "heaven" -- argued to be "material damage" -- as an injurious consequence of complying with the ACA's mandate, or, 2. that they will suffer "material damage" prior to their presumed ascent as a result of legally required "complicity" in such a Biblical crime. The fact is that the Greens will not ever be forced to even become aware of any of the consequences of simply complying with the law. The plaintiff's "damage" is to them, at its very best, proximate and the issue of presumption, not direct or physical.

It is unlikely that any Hobby Lobby employee utilizing the contraceptive coverage will ever even actually tell the Greens that this is the case.

The judicial problem with
 "deeply held religious beliefs"

The Catholic Supremes concluded that merely the Green's proclamation of "deeply held religious beliefs" was sufficient to merit protection under their curiously interpreted application of the Establishment language. However, what the Catholic Supremes didn't even bother to add to this inevitably arcane decision was any judicial metric for a useful determination of "deeply."

Absent such a mechanism to establish "deeply-enough" from "not deeply-enough," the decision's applicability is entirely unquantifiable. What remains amid the smoldering tatters of the Supreme jurisprudence is that "deeply-enough" will be an issue of plaintiff "fiat." That is, when any plaintiff argues that any particular "religious belief" is, in fact, a "deeply held" one, the Supremes' new rule of evidence is satisfied at trial. This ruling requires that the plaintiff's claim must be regarded as legitimate, prima facie evidence that he did, in fact, hold such beliefs, that those beliefs satisfied the [heretofore...] undefined test of being "deeply" held, and that he has, as a consequence, suffered "material damage" -- although there is no particular other evidence of it -- as a result of being compelled to contradict them in some way.

The matter of "belief" is also problematic. MeanMesa happily grants syntactical validity to "beliefs" expressing hypotheses. This use of the term is a convenient means to relay the idea that "what is being 'believed'" is, in fact, a hypothetical proposition [subject to logical "existential falsification" -- see below] based on some sort of evidence and awaiting a more formal proof or other substantiation.

However, if "what is being 'believed'" is something -- not a proposition -- presented utterly without any material or logical evidence whatsoever, the act of "believing" becomes no more than an "insistence" that something unsupported by evidence of any kind be factual.

This was the essence of Justice Ginsberg's scathing minority opinion. Her prediction has become a chilling reality in the days since the Hobby Lobby ruling. "Deeply held religious beliefs" are popping up like dandelions in springtime from every reactionary billionaire anxious to defeat the ACA and, perhaps, save a little money on the employee health insurance benefits the law now requires.

The US health insurance corporations have a cordial hatred of the ACA for understandable reasons. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the ambition of permanently defeating it. They have clearly corrupted Congress with their lobbying. However, "joining the posse" are hundreds of billionaires who are watching the amount they must now legally pay for employee health insurance benefits escalate.

Making little effort to conceal the outrage, the heavily soiled, brazenly "interest conflicted" Catholic Supremes have been the "biggest hogs at the trough."

The logical issue of
"existential falsification"

Existential falsification is the classical antithesis of mythological religion -- especially claims of universal authority of religious doctrine [claims usually expressed by various ways in the ancient books] offered to legitimize all manner of wars and conquests, many with ramifications durable enough to last to this present day.

The "existential falsification" idea is from propositional logic. For some kind of statement or proclamation to be a proposition, it must be -- at least potentially -- provably either true or false. While spectacular claims issuing forth from religious mythology may seem to be propositions, there exists no logical means to either verify or disprove them, that is, the means to establish their accuracy or falsehood do not exist [are not "existential"...], hence, the term "existential falsification."

All this would be rather academic if it were not for the "evidence" quandary mentioned above. Although it may be enjoyable to employ the "existential falsification" card in a cocktail party conversation with an over imbibing religionist [MeanMesa uses the term "religionist" to describe an individual who insists on applying of Bronze Age superstitions to modern decisions], it turns out that the logically shabby "material damage" of the "injured party" in our Hobby Lobby lawsuit exhibits the same difficulty.

A plaintiff complaint that his "deeply held religious beliefs" have been violated cannot be proved or disproved within the confines of judicial discipline or the constraints of the rules of evidence present in a courtroom at trial. To argue further that, as a result of holding such "deeply held beliefs," a plaintiff is reasonably entitled -- Constitutionally -- to legal protection from ever being compelled to comply with statutory law contradicting them or even to countenance others near by engaging in behavior contradicting them is a new low for American jurisprudence.

Far from an "easily ignorable legal complexity," the Hobby Lobby decision reached the domestic US to a depth which MeanMesa considers remarkable. Supreme decisions are typically not particularly interesting to Americans, but this one was clearly an exception -- especially to women already wary after red states passed over 1,100 "anti-Roe style" abortion prohibitions in the past five years and tea bag Congressmen have repeatedly implied a desire to also prohibit or limit contraception.

A larger question is whether or not this ruling has further eroded citizen opinion about the Court. In this respect, MeanMesa is no longer specifically addressing the actual decision, but instead, the quite abnormal judicial logic the Court's reactionary majority expressed in this case. This decision is out of character even for a Court whose character was already in question.

Will such an illogical ruling 
discredit the Supreme Court?
Don't worry -- it would be like worrying 
that something would further discredit the Congress.

The following excerpts from an academic paper [12 pages] written about this issue may be interesting. [The link provided is to a downloadable .pdf file.]

Attitudes on Social Cognition
Limits on Legitimacy: Moral and Religious Convictions as Constraints on Deference to Authority

Skitka, Lytle and Bauman
Excerpted. Read the entire article  here.

A common theme that cuts across many controversial issues of the day is that at least one side in each case defines its position in moral or religious terms. Controversies such as abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and the Iraq War each seem to have advocates and opponents who see these issues in terms of self- evident and fundamental truths about right and wrong. To support alternatives to what is “right,” “moral” and “good” is to be absolutely “wrong,” “immoral,” if not “evil." Disagreements on issues people see in a moral or religious light would therefore seem to be closed to compromise, because to compromise would be to undermine first-order truths or conceptions of the good.

Some argue, however, that the most important role of law is to intervene in exactly these kinds of conflicts. Legal authorities can resolve conflicts and shape subsequent public opinion by placing the imprimatur of the state on one or another set of values. When people perceive an authority or legal system as legitimate, neither “consent of the governed” nor “benefits received” are required to justify obedience. Instead, legitimacy is believed to create a duty and obligation to obey as an imperative that replaces even personal moral standards as a guide or primary motivation.

In a related vein, legitimacy also provides authorities and institutions with a “reservoir of good will” that protects them from backlash from unpopular decisions. Nowhere is the reservoir of good will more evident than in public reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court, an institution that commands an incredible bedrock of public support and perceived legitimacy. Although people may dislike specific rulings, their disagreement seldom if ever erodes the public’s basic belief in the legitimacy of the Court. For example, even when the Supreme Court participated in the highly charged dispute about the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, there was little or no evidence of a decline in the public’s view of the Court’s legitimacy.

Christian Dominionism: 
the Supremes' judicial validation

First, a little about "dominionism." [Excerpted. Read the entire WIKI article  here.]

Dominion Theology
In his 1992 study of Dominion Theology and its influence on the Christian Right, Bruce Barron writes,
In the context of American evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life, the distinguishing mark of a dominionist is a commitment to defining and carrying out an approach to building society that is self-consciously defined as exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of Christians, rather than based on a broader consensus.
According to Diamond, the defining concept of dominionism is "that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns". In 1989, Diamond declared that this concept "has become the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right" in the United States. In 1995, she called it "prevalent on the Christian Right". Journalist Chip Berlet added in 1998 that, although they represent different theological and political ideas, dominionists assert a Christian duty to take "control of a sinful secular society."
In 2005, Clarkson enumerated the following characteristics shared by all forms of dominionism:
  1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
  2. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
  3. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or "biblical law," should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.   [Emphasis added: MeanMesa]
When first reading through this explanation of dominionism, a typical American might pause, reassured that the fundamental concept of division between church and state prevents such ambitions from materializing in the Republic. However, this Supreme Court ruling directly overwhelms this traditional protection, and it, on its face, is nothing short of an arrogant legitimatizing of raw dominionist principles.

However, although dominionist factions have been part of most major religions at one point or another, these ultra-aggressive, ultra-nationalist influences have, through most of this history, been either outlawed or, at least, severely tempered by those in power in the interest of national calm. Although the term itself is extracted from Genesis, the nightmarish Old Testament accounts of the prehistoric Jews attacking and slaughtering anyone residing on "land ceded directly to them by their divinity" is often also cited. 

In this latest US outbreak the dominionists have, once again, become violently resurgent. In this case the "mandate" does command the faithful to annihilate their neighbors, but instead, reverts to the suffocating patriarchy of ancient Jewish tribal life.  The Hobby Lobby ruling is evidence of their influence on the Catholic Supremes.

The Roman church has seldom expressed disagreement with military or colonial dominionism -- so long as the dominion conquered or colonized fell under its hegemony.

Women Having Sex Without Consequences
Control of sex is ultimate control.

"...dominionists assert a Christian duty to take 'control of a sinful secular society.' "

The quote from the article [above] needs only a modest extension to illuminate the ambitions of those endorsing this arcane Supreme over reach. Of course, running in the veins of this entire matter is the business and money classes' almost maniacal hatred of the President -- usually a sentiment focusing on criticizing the ACA. Given this, can the "women having sex without consequences" really be reasonably attached to the bizarre positions of every right wing pundit from Limbaugh to the disgraced and discarded GOP Congressional and Senate candidates who died with "their feet in their mouth?"

Is preventing "women from having sex without consequences" the alleged "Biblical principle" anchoring the gaseous complaint of the Greens as plaintiffs? Perhaps the weakest of all the elements embroiled in this case is the claim that the Green's objections are, in fact, based on biblical principles. Further, if, somehow, they were, and if, somehow, this could become "evidence" at trial, what difference should it make?

MeanMesa located the following article from Media Matters, 2011. [Visit the site to read the original article MediaMatters. There is a video of the FOX broadcast.]

Mediamatters blog
July 20, 2011
Mediamatters staff

Not surprisingly, Fox's Heather Childers framed the story as being about whether the government should be involved in women's reproductive health.

But the segment took a particularly vicious and personal tone when Fox News contributor and vice president of Family-PAC Federal, Sandy Rios, attacked IOM recommendation supporter Dr. Cathleen London, calling her "a disgrace to our gender."

Rios criticized London as "a true feminist who makes no sense" and continued to display her own anti-woman agenda by proposing to "let women stop having irresponsible sex. ... Let's stop making excuses and providing a way to get women out of trouble when they should be responsible in their behavior."

Childers also jumped in agreed with Rios that it's "not too much to ask for everyone to stop having irresponsible sex."

It turns out to be only the smallest step from FOX "on air" to the wholly owned Supremes.

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