Archive | November, 2011

Americhristian Exegesis

Oh, and one more. This was published in The Daily Tar Heel (the student newspaper of UNC Chapel Hill) on 28 January 1994:

To the Editor:

Matt Osman’s Jan. 20 letter (“Columnist Obviously Doesn’t Understand Ways of Baptists”) offers two defenses of Christian intolerance of homosexuality.

Mr. Osman’s first defense is the claim that “this country is founded on Christian principles,” and America’s founding documents are cited as evidence. But Mr. Osman’s memory of those documents seems a bit shaky. The Constitution of the United States contains no reference to God or Christianity. The Declaration of Independence contains a passing reference to God, but nothing distinctively Christian. (This is hardly surprising, since its author, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist, not a Christian.)

Mr. Osman mentions the Pledge of Allegiance. This hardly qualifies as a founding document, since it was written in 1892, and the words “under God” were not added until 1954. In any case, it too contains no reference to Christianity or any distinctively Christian doctrine.

Treaty of Tripoli

A more relevant document is the 1796 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tripoli, drafted under the authority of George Washington, in which the administration of our nation’s first president officially puts itself on the record with the declaration: “The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Osman’s second defense is that Christians are required to be intolerant because the Bible requires it, and such Christians must “believe in the Bible …. The Bible is an all-or-nothing deal.” But Mr. Osman’s memory of the Bible appears to be a bit shaky as well. The Bible is full of injunctions that few Christians take seriously, from the prohibitions on self-defense (Matthew 5: 39-41) and the eating of oysters (Leviticus 11: 9-12), to the insistence that slaves must obey their masters (Colossians 3: 22) and the endorsement of witch-burning (Exodus 22: 18).

Why should the Bible’s crude and ignorant animadversions on homosexuality be treated any differently? In practice, no Christians really treat the Bible as an all-or-nothing deal, or regard themselves as bound to obey all its literal commands down to the last bizarre detail.

More to the point, even if Mr. Osman were correct in claiming that Christianity requires a literal adherence to the Bible in every detail, this would be irrelevant as a defense of Christian intolerance. If Christianity really did require intolerance, then Christianity would be an evil and ungodly religion, and Christianity would be morally obligated to renounce it. Fortunately, Mr. Osman’s assertions are as groundless in theology as they are in American history.

Roderick T. Long

God and Harry Browne

I dug up two letters-to-the-editor from days past. The first, co-written with my friend and then-colleague Elizabeth Brake, was submitted to the Opelika-Auburn News on 9 June 2000; to the best of my recollection, it was published.

Bruce Murray [Letters, 5/31/00] tells us that without divine revelation, we cannot know right from wrong. Yet he offers us no reason to accept this breathtaking dismissal of the last 2500 years of moral philosophy.


Do we really need a revelation from a supernatural being before we can figure out that cooperation and mutual respect are better than violence and cruelty? If we can discover through our own reasoning power what the square root of 529 is, why can’t we discover through our own reasoning power how we should behave? The apostle Paul himself acknowledged (Romans 2:14-15) that those who have not received the moral law through revelation can find it for themselves through their own consciences.

Murray seems to think that morality is something that has to be handed down by an authority; but this claim betrays a logical confusion. For an authority’s commands merit our obedience only if the authority itself is good. Since an authority must already be good for its commands to count as good, no authority’s commands could be the standard of goodness.

“Absent the Creator,” Murray opines, “all moral claims are equally opinion.” But then why desn’t he also think that, absent the Creator, all mathematical claims are merely opinion as well? After all, the Bible doesn’t tell us what the square root of 529 is. Nor does it tell us what we should think about abortion, or affirmative action, or genetic engineering, or any number of other important moral issues. Should we just remain agnostic on these issues until we receive a special revelation from the Creator? Or should we instead accept the responsibility of reasoning through such issues, weighing the arguments pro and con to see which side has the strongest case?

Why would God have given us the capacity to reason unless he expected us to make use of it to discover the truth? Murray tells us that without divine revelation we are only animals. But as philosophers from Aristotle to Kant have pointed out, what separates us from mere animals is above all the possession of reason,a nd the responsibilities that come with it. In Hamlet’s words, we were surely not given “godlike reason to fust in us unus’d.”

Roderick T. Long          Elizabeth Brake

The second was published in the Auburn Plainsman, 2 November 2000 (back in my partyarch days):

To the Editor:

Do voters deserve to have full information before they make their choice in the voting booth next Tuesday? The Auburn Plainsman doesn’t seem to think so.

When The Plainsman covers other kinds of races – for student government or Homecoming Queen, for example – they cover all the candidates, not just the top two contenders. Likewise, in the past, The Plainsman has tried to represent all sides fairly rather than simply cheering for the dominant faction. But apparently the rules are different this time.

Al Gore & George W. Bush

George Bush and Al Gore are not the only candidates for President on the ballot. But although The Plainsman has offered space to representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties for guest editorials supporting their candidates, third-party supporters have been denied equal time.

As faculty advisor to the Auburn Libertarians, I asked to write a guest editorial making the case for Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate, since the faculty advisor to the College Republicans recently had a guest editorial making the case for George Bush.

After I was initially told yes, my editorial was eventually turned down because the Libertarian Party is not one of the “main” parties.

Instead, The Plainsman published a vague write-up of the Libertarian Party that made it appears indistinguishable from the Republicans. For example, the party was described as seeking merely to “reduce” the federal income tax (rather than eliminate it), and there was no reference to the Libertarian Party’s stand against all victimless crime laws, including drug laws.

Harry Browne

Is it really any of the government’s business what you choose to inhale or inject into your body? Is your body government property? Moreover, the government’s war on drugs doesn’t just interfere with the freedom of drug users; it threatens everyone else. The drug war is the government’s principal excuse for increasing the invasion of civil liberties.

When government anti-drug programs fail, governments respond by demanding increased powers, by weakening constitutional safeguards against search and seizure, and – of course – by raising taxes.

Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol in the 1920s, and it isn’t working with drugs now; it only breeds organized crime and police corruption, as it did then.

Democrats want to control your economic life, through increased taxes and regulations. Republicans want to control your personal life by dictating what you can read, what you can inhale and whom you can sleep with. Both parties seem to think that politicians and bureaucrats can make better choices than you can about the proper use of your mind, your body, and your money.

Harry Browne is the only candidate for President who doesn’t claim the right to control your life. If you want to be fully informed about your choices on Nov.7, check out the full details on Libertarian positions at and And please vote your conscience next Tuesday.

Roderick T. Long

Entangling Alliances With Nun

No, this is not Lindsay Lohan

Around 1984, my college roommate Paul Fine (my collaborator on the Kant Song) and I wrote, inter alia, a song called “Sister Ann,” which I like best of all our joint compositions. Below are the lyrics; lines in bold are Paul’s and the rest are mine. All the music is Paul’s.

Here’s a version with Paul singing and playing the piano (my favourite); and here’s a fancy studio version with someone else singing. There’s also an instrumental version.

Sister Ann
do you recall
     the night we met outside the garden wall
I held your hand
we watched the raindrops fall
     we had no need of words at all

Sister Ann
don’t you recall
     you were young and full of life
     the raindrops melted on your skin
     above our heads the stone cross
     spoke of sorrow and of sin
you shivered in its shadow
yet the shadow seemed so small
     I didn’t know I’d see you on the wrong side of the wall

Did they paint a God on stony throne?
were you his disapproval shown?
I always dreamed you felt as I
and never thought to question why
we felt his velvet breath inside
when we exchanged our own

     Are you happy in your garden, Sister Ann?
     do your grey eyes ever mourn the passing years?
     did you think of our embraces, Sister Ann
     as your dark hair fell like rain
     beneath the coldness of the shears?

Sister Ann
do you find
     it’s getting easier to erase me from your mind?
perhaps you can
I ought to be resigned
     to being outside and left behind

Sister Ann
do you weep
     or have they taught you how to close
     your heart’s mute door upon the time
     your body felt the wind’s kiss
     and your lips pressed close to mine?
The flesh leads to damnation
so you pray your soul to keep
     and hide in stifling robes to keep your memory asleep

Silence binds hearts when they are young
a simple glance outspeaks a tongue

but now my words will not suffice
to reach you through that sheet of ice
that binds you to the frozen Christ
and shields you from the sun

     Are you happy in your garden, Sister Ann?
     do your grey eyes ever mourn the passing years?
     did you think of our embraces, Sister Ann
     as your dark hair fell like rain
     beneath the coldness of the shears?

I’ll pluck a flower from this spot
in turn each petal will be got
perhaps it’s thus she was entombed
they took the flower just when bloomed
and left behind a heart that’s doomed
I know she loves me not

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes