Justice Thomas Believes that Religious Oaths Inhibit Lying. He’s Wrong.

I rarely overestimate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, but this one still caught me by surprise: his recent argument, delivered at Pepperine University, that Christians are more likely to uphoad their oaths of as lawyers:

I think it’s interesting in a profession where we all take an oath, that they would look at people who have strong faith as somehow not good people, when, if you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean? If you are a Christian and you believe in god, what is an oath? . . . You’ve taken an oath to God. . . . [religion] enhances your view of the oath.

Presumably, Thomas would extend this to lawmakers, presidents, judges, police officers, and everyone else who takes an oath of office.

Image result for clarence thomas

When I think that Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall, I begin to doubt whether the arc of the universe is actually bending toward justice.

The problems with this are myriad.

First, it’s naive to think that nonbelievers lie or deflect their duties more than people of faith.

Second, liars will break an oath. Requiring an oath to God just rules out people too honest to make one. It doesn’t rule in honest people.

Third, if the only reason you are being honest is because you made a promise to do so, your character is already poor. This is one reason why Jesus tells people not to bother with oaths–to just let your yesses be our yesses and your noes be your noes. Making a promise on top of your plain words suggests that any time you aren’t making that promise, you aren’t required to live up to your word.

It’s also ignorant of the Constitution, which doesn’t require an oath of office for the presidency but permits an affirmation instead.

The founders had the option of creating a religious test for office. If they thought that people of faith were superior politicians, they would have required it. Instead, in Article VI, they specify that what is most important is fidelity to the Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

We settled this at the start. When Justice Thomas says he’s an originalist, he’s lying. And his religious belief doesn’t seem to have prevented it.

 

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Brief lessons from Buddhism about hate

At 606, we write a lot about Christianity and hate. Today, I want to draw from another religious tradition to enhance the conversation.

Thanks to my friend Katy for bringing this helpful article from the Zen Studies Podcast to my attention.

The author identifies the relationship between fear, anger, and hate–something affirmed by psychologists who study hate as well.

Fear, anger, and hatred are all intimately related, and they’re essentially different stages of the manifestation of ill-will with delusion mixed in. The arising of these negative states starts with fundamental fear that you won’t get what you need, or that you’ll be harmed in some way. Anger arises as an instinct to protect. Throw in a good dose of delusion – the belief that our well-being is separate from that of other beings, and that clinging to the self results in happiness – and we start “othering.” We think of the people we blame for our misfortune, or those we feel threatened by, and conclude they must be fundamentally different than we are. For some reason (frequently based on superficial differences like race or cultural background) the other is less than we are, and somehow deserves misfortune. This conclusion overrides our natural empathy and compassion and our attitude can harden into hostility and hatred.

In other words, by denying the fact that our well-being is the well-beings of other people–that, in some way, there are no other people-we begin to create the ground where hate can grow.

Image result for hate in buddhismAbove, monks outside the Tree of Life synagogue.

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