A Long Drink From The Well of Theocracy


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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59 Responses

  1. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I wonder what the “historian” Mr. Gingrich thinks about the Barbary Treaties that explicitly state that America isn’t a Christian nation.

    Liberal, secularist, Islamic propaganda, perhaps.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      I wonder if the historian has heard of them.Report

      • Avatar Michelle says:

        Newt did his dissertation on colonialism in the Belgian Congo without ever bothering to travel to the Belgian Congo to do any research. He got drummed out of the history department at the podunk college where he was employed and into the geography department, then he was denied tenure. Given his statements and writings, I’m pretty sure he knows next to nothing about American history. It’s an insult to serious historians everywhere, people who actually give a damn about the facts and their interpretation, that he still calls himself a historian. He’s a charlatan.

        I’ll stop foaming at the mouth now.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Would that there were a Secular Atheist Party!   Part of the charm of being a Christian, by my estimation, is the proposition that God loves us all.  Yes, atheists, too.   Imagine that.   Jesus never condemned anyone for his religion.   Plenty of what Jesus had to say about ethics ended with “even the heathens do these things.”

    Jesus did, however, have plenty to say the religious authorities of his own day who were conniving with the Romans to stay in power.  Something about whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones if memory serves.

    Newt Gingrich’s religion has never stayed his hand, nor yet any other part of his anatomy, from breaking whichever commandments he felt like breaking at the time.   Jesus told us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, which means we have to pay our taxes, a sore point with me just now, what with having to file both corporate and personal returns. Newt doesn’t have to file his taxes.

    When Newt’s confronted with his many sins, he wants to turn the tables, demanding forgiveness.   Alas that only God can forgive sins and even He demands repentance, metanoia, a change in direction.   I can see no change in Newt’s direction, therefore I do not feel obliged to forgive him anything.   He who sins cannot demand Forgiveness.   He might be forgiven, were he to own up to his errors.  Newt hasn’t quite reached that point.

    Hurrah for the atheists, I say.   Brave souls, staggering about under the weight of their own stern ethical constructs.   They don’t demand forgiveness.   No Jedi Mind Tricks for them about the Blood of Jesus, washing away every sin and stain.    Being something of a consequentialist myself,  I am acutely aware of its shortcomings.  This I do know about consequences, nobody, not even God, will save us from our own reputations.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      All of this was great, Blaise, but count this among those things I wish had penned myself:

      “Newt Gingrich’s religion has never stayed his hand, nor yet any other part of his anatomy, from breaking whichever commandments he felt like breaking at the time. “Report

    • Avatar Matty says:

      Would that there were a Secular Atheist Party!


      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        It’s about time atheists started standing up, really it is.   What the atheists really need is better PR as I’ve been saying around here for some time.   How tiresomely repetitive I am!

        See, if I was writing PR for the atheists, I’d set about finding a proper atheist mystic.  I’m sure there must be several good ones, I just don’t know of any.   Buddhism should have been that avenue:  unfortunately what passes for Buddhism in most quarters looks far too much like a religion to pass muster.

        The atheist evangelists could learn a thing or three from religion’s successes and not preach its failures so obstreperously.  If God has proven a bad excuse for many evil deeds, atheism could easily circumvent a great deal of nonsense and point to the good things religion’s done and make the point that God didn’t do those things, we did them for each other.


        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          “I’d set about finding a proper atheist mystic.  I’m sure there must be several good ones, I just don’t know of any.”

          Carl Sagan? Not an actual atheist according to Wikipedia, but close enough that I’ll take him.Report

  3. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    I’m not sure it is Christianity that is demonstrably more important to him than the American value of religious tolerance. I rather think it’s the polygamous marriage of Christian truth (as he understands it) to political power and to national identity.  Secularism isn’t preventing him from worshiping and otherwise living his faith either individually or communally–it doesn’t stop him or hinder him from being a Christian–but it is seeking to divorce religious faith from the coercive arm of society.  For Newt, secularism strikes at the heart of what it means to be an American.  It’s unfortunate, because secularism is good for religion and for the state.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      For Newt, secularism strikes at the heart of what it means to be an American. It’s unfortunate, because secularism is good for religion and for the state.


      • Avatar David says:

        I shall attempt a third time. I suggest taking a careful review of your site code, as two previous responses vanished into an error stating “error: please type a comment”.

        I do find it interesting that this discussion is still occurring in the American States, given that you colonials over two centuries had a situation wherein a rather vocal and violent minority of you declared a war upon your parental nation and proceeded to establish what was a very secularist government, only now to retroactively seem to be declaring it to be in actually a stealthy christianist government instead.

        My own nation has had our other issues with religionist governmental problems, not the least of which is the similar situation of a separatist element on the neighboring island being willing, after constantly losing referenda attempting to secede from our union, to go to violent asymmetrical war to insist that the 70% in their borough who disagree with them go along with the whole secessionist issue anyways. It is also quite amusing that they continue to declare their separatist intent to be the result of religious discrimination, since the head of our own “state church” is a figurehead barely given lip service in our own laws beyond the occasional appearance in the tabloids, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, or the ceremonial greetings of pompous leaders of other nations whether also figureheads or actual figures of some authority in their respective governments.

        We also have our own declarations against religious discrimination in our laws, not the least of which is the ECHR made binding by our own Human Rights Act, forbidding the restriction of any citizen from having a religion, changing their religion, adopting a new religion, or worshiping and professing as their religion indicates. I did note with some sadness the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which the UN altered from guaranteeing the right to have, change, or adopt a religion to merely the right to have one, an intervention by the remaining theocratic states in the UN that has allowed them quite a bit of freedom to engage in the suppression of minority groups in theocratic states without being held to account for this violation of human rights.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          error: please type a comment

          I find that this happens to me when I start typing before the java has finished loading for the comment window.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Hey, David, a quick logistical note.

          For whatever reason some of your comments are still (obviously) showing up, while some others are being picked up by the spam filter.  I have a suspicion that this is caused by your coming in with a “spaminator” address, but I don’t really know.

          This has to be a monumental pain in the ass for you, so on behalf of everyone here: apologies.  I will try to periodically check the spam filter and search under your name.  However, it might just be with that address it’s an ongoing issue.

          Again, most sincere apologies.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          I do find it interesting that this discussion is still occurring in the American States, given that you colonials over two centuries had a situation wherein a rather vocal and violent minority of you declared a war upon your parental nation and proceeded to establish what was a very secularist government, only now to retroactively seem to be declaring it to be in actually a stealthy christianist government instead.

          IIRC, our complaint against HM George III Hanover’s government was not that was either insufficiently Christian, nor too overbearingly Christian. It had much more to do with the scope of participatory democracy, criminal procedure, and military/civilian relations. Perhaps in your green and pleasant land history is taught differently.

          But you raise an interesting example, David — religion and politics mix, all too often, like vinegar and baking (bicarbonate of) soda, creating a smelly, messy, and sometimes violent reaction. On our side of the Pond, we’re very pleased to see the Troubles receding. It is partially out of an abundance of caution that such a state of affairs does not arise here that I write cautionary posts such as these.

          And I think I’ve got all the HTML cleaned up, as I noted below.Report

          • Avatar David says:

            If I was imprecise in my third rendering of my words, Mr. Likko, I should probably clarify. My first two attempts were much longer and hopefully clearer, but I was frustrated when they vanished and attempting to recall from memory both encouraged me to shorten them and introduced a few errors.

            I was not insinuating that your revolution was a result of the religion of the King of the time or the religion of its government, though it is probably worth noting that many of you colonials originally emigrated in order to found religious enclaves a continent away from the seat of the Anglican Church. The source of my mirth is instead the fact that your constitutional government and the writings of the violent revolutionaries who were your leaders evoke a definite goal of founding a secularist government that would be neutral to all forms and flavours of religion, and yet two centuries later your political leaders are arguing that your government ought be a christianist government and are decrying your founding secularism as some form of degenerative disease.

            I daresay that it is entirely possible that my education in our green and pleasant land walked upon by feet in ancient times, in respect to your own government’s history, may very well be a better education than that which your own citizens receive in regard to the history of the American States.

            But I also daresay that in our modern day, we have no desire to build a “Jerusalem” of any sort in our green and pleasant land.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              And a great song when ELP does it.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              I suspect that the histories we are each taught are actually quite similar, based on what I’m hearing you say – save, of course, that you can bet you’ll never see that certain group of men referred to as “Founding Fathers” in your text books, nor “the violent revolutionaries” in ours.

              Still, I must say that the irony you note is spot on.  That being said, you might be overstating the case.  We do remain a secular nation by and large.  While there are indeed those that wish to make a New Jerusalem,  they are a minority.  It sometimes seems like there are more of them than there are, because:

              a). They are louder and in general better organized than most, and therefore they are basically a “winner take all” voting block

              b). from a media standpoint, they are by far the most interesting voting block, and therefore they get a substantial amount of play by the press on the left (looking for a boogeyman), the right (looking for a Heroic Struggle story), and the basic mainstream (looking for good ratings).Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              One of the things TVD gets right is that the founding of this country was almost certainly more religious, and specifically more Christian, than you think, both in its intellectual foundation and in the people who did the founding.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                This is true.  My own arguments have never been that a secular society that allows Muslims and Atheists to hold office and gays to marry was what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  It’s always been that in these areas they were wrong, yet they still gave us the framework that allowed us to work toward these truths.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                Indeed.  If you spend anytime over at American Creation, you will definitely come away with a much more nuanced view of the founders and their thoughts on the whole issue of religion.  And those folks over there are dealing with original sources, too. 

                It definitely was an eye-opener for me to see that it wasn’t as black and white as I might wish it were.  Not to say that there isn’t still some disgreement and back and forth about just what the founders meant, but that it is never as conclusive as one side or the other would have you believe.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Oh, David.   They’ve been at it forever, even those Founding Fathers.  George Washington and John Adams (and Randolph Scott!) were installing National Days of Prayer and Fasting.   It took Thomas Jefferson to evict these little religious dingleberries from America’s patoot and establish the supremacy of the Supreme Court.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Not to digress this thread into a IRA morass, but a nitpick:

          The 70% in their borough who disagree with them go along with the whole secessionist issue anyways.

          The demographic skew in Northern Ireland is pretty much a direct result of ~100 years of policy.  Now, the U.S. has plenty of forced relocations in its history and thus any American ought not to be lobbing any stones here, but stacking the deck precisely to bring about a majority doesn’t give your majority much in the way of weight.  This is like swapping out a regular deck of cards for a Pinochle deck and then saying, “Well, those 9s are out of line trying to get all the face cards to see things their way!”

          The history of English-Irish relations is a long collection of colossal screwups by both sides, and many of the modern inhabitants are divorced from most of that context, so let’s just say that after 600+ years of tortured relations the status quo is remarkably better than Israel’s relationships with its neighbors and leave it at “European colonialism, on the whole, produced a very mixed bag of results”.Report

          • Avatar Simon K says:

            The trouble is its not ~100 years of policy, its conservatively at least 400 years of policy. Once policy lasts that long, people think its the natural state of things. Every ethnic division in the world started out as someone’s policy. When Carson and Bonar-Law started making explicit the whole idea that Ulster was different from the rest of Ireland, they weren’t making it up out of whole cloth. They were reifying the 400 years of history that went back to the plantation of Ulster, which for participants who may be less familiar with Irish history occurred at the same time as the initial settlement of Virginia.

            That said, in spite of the fact my grandparents are from Ulster and stolid Unionists, I don’t think the partition of Ireland is going to last my lifetime, and  that’s a good thing. In truth, the unionist side dislike the British nearly as much as the nationalists do, and that’s really the key. When Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley Jr are in government together and arguing vehemently about education policy, you know progress has really been made.Report

          • Avatar David says:

            What you are calling “policy” are the same things as the demographic shifts responsible for the emigration of masses of Irish people to your colonies both preceding and following your “revolutionary war.” Need I remind you that Northern Ireland has not just been given constant chances to secede, but under the terms of the treaty of 1922 after the mainland Irish government were made a part of the Irish nation only to vote themselves back into our union?

            I, and most of the people of the union, have no problem with the secessionists continuing to hold a vote on secession every few years. It is their right of self-determination to do so, after all. What I and most well-thinking persons object to is the inevitable wave of violence when these ruffians lose the vote and find out that they are in the minority. It would be rather like if Quebec were to declare a secessionist war upon your neighbors to the north, following their many years of constantly losing their referenda.

            As I understand it, you Yanks have it somewhat backwards. When the inevitable turn came for you to respect the right of self-determination of your southern states, you instead went to war to make them remain part of your union. I have always found it amusing, whatever the other circumstances of the war or its relation to the odious institution of slavery that still colours your national dialogue today, that when your time came to respect the right of self-determination of your own states you opted just as HM George III had and waged a terrible and bloody war to prevent them from leaving.

            The circumstances of the Irish secessionist war in 1920 were far different, as the Irish representatives had already been granted that which they asked for only to go to war with each other anyways. I could go into it in great depth, far greater than the wikipedia entry you point to, but I shall sum it up as quickly as possible: the people of Northern Ireland have rejected every referendum since the earlier part of the 20th century. They have, when deliberately freed from the union as part of treaty, voted to rejoin the union. That a small and violent minority in one region that does not wish to be part of the Irish state continues to attempt to violently browbeat the majority into doing something it does not wish to do is a problem.

            I shall still have to object most strongly to your attempt to blame “policy” for a series of demographical shifts that had more to do with events such as the great potato famine. It is also important to point out that the policy of the union since well before your bloody American Civil War had long dissolved the structural differences making the Catholics into second-class citizens and that we had engaged in extensive programmes to right the economic wrongs committed and help the Catholics to buy back the land they had lost under such policies.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    And as the great American statesman Thomas Jefferson once said: “If my neighbor worships twenty gods or no god, it totally picks my pocket and breaks my leg”.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Burt –

    This is just an awesome post, and my favorite so far of the All Newt All The Time posts here. I’d say it’s a shame that this wasn’t available for the good people of SC to read before voting, but I suspect it would just make those that were going to vote for him more convinced they were right.

    I’ll also say this: Far be it for me to declare without hesitation what happens within a man’s soul, heart, and head.  But unlike Santorum or Romney, I have a hard time believing that any of Newt’s religious proclamations are made out of anything other than political expediency.  In other words, I’ve never been very convinced Newt wants a theocracy; I’ve only ever been convinced that he wants power.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      In other words, I’ve never been very convinced Newt wants a theocracy; I’ve only ever been convinced that he wants power.

      That was my thought until recently. My fear is that his recent political positioning has painted him in something of a corner in the gratefully unlikely event he were to actually be elected — and I’ve noticed that recent converts to a new denomination, as Gingrich is, tend to be exceptionally enthusiastic about Spreading The Good News.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        This might well be true.  And even if I’m right, were Newt ever elected I have no doubt that he would be willing to do all matter of things to stay in power; and if he thought it was his Wrathful God approach that was part of the key to doing so, those things might be very scary indeed.Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

        I’ve noticed that recent converts to a new denomination, as Gingrich is, tend to be exceptionally enthusiastic about Spreading The Good News.

        That’s my experience as well.Report

        • Avatar Michelle says:

          Or it could be that he converted to Catholicism to make his android of a wife happy. Much easier for him to do that than to have the large carrot surgically removed from her ass. Could that woman be anymore uptight?

          I’m pretty cynical when it comes to Newt. I think his embrace of old-time religion has a lot more to do with appealing to the evangelical Republican base than it does with any deep-seated faith. The guy has always known how to seize on resentment and hatred and play it for what it’s worth. This latest version of his strategy plays on the evangelicals’ fears that their brand of Christianity is somehow losing out in a more secular society and their desire to force it down the throats of us heathens. But the strategy as a whole isn’t new to Newt. He’s one of the chief architects of the linguistic bombs used to vilify liberalism and Democrats, and brought whole new levels of divisiveness. I think the only thing that he really truly believes is that he’s a “great leader” sent here to change the course of the country. That’s why he’s so dangerous. He believes his own messianic brand of bullshit.Report

      • My fear is that his recent political positioning has painted him in something of a corner in the gratefully unlikely event he were to actually be elected

        This seems true of Romney as well, FWIWReport

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    For some reason, publishing directly from my word processor fished up all the hyperlinks to all the quotes from Gingrich I’d found; I believe and hope that I’ve fixed all the broken hyperlinks in the OP now.Report

  7. Avatar James K says:

    What I find particularly delicious is that Gingrich is willing to ignore the supreme law of the United States to score political points and would be amenable to provoking a constitutional crisis by declaring war on the judiciary, but it’s atheists who can’t be trusted with power?

    Would it be constitutional to implement a “no opportunistic weasels” test for public office?Report

  8. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Slighty OOT, but when I wrote a comment about people applauding Newt for putting Juan Williams in his place the other day, I was exaggerating, and perhaps being very uncharitable. Imagine my surprise:

    More applause greeted a woman at one of Gingrich’s next campaign stops when she thanked him “for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place the other night.”


    Oh well. It’s possible that Newt never intended any racial dog-whistle at all, but some people are still hearing the whistle loud and clear.Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 says:

      I’m hearing some pushback that putting Juan Williams in his place might mean putting a liberal in his place, or putting a representative of biased liberal MSM in his place, that it’s not necessarily because Williams is black. Not buying this for a second because:

      1) Williams works for Fox News, hardly the bastion of biased liberal MSM.

      2) Even if some conservatives might conflate black = liberal, in the case of this particular black man, it’s not really a believable excuse, after all the brouhaha about NPR firing him, Fox hiring him, and his book talking about, hey, what do you know, biased liberal MSM.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        How quickly they turn….feels like only yesterday that Juan Williams was the latest in a line of brave truth telling conservative martyrs of the liberal media complex.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          If you’re not actively helping, you’re giving aid and comfort to the opposition.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Williams wasn’t (and isn’t) conservative. A big reason for the flap is that he was fired for his comments despite the fact that he is “a liberal.”

          Anyhow, I am not sure how much of that came in to play (how many of them remembered, or cared, about Williams being fired by NPR). I think what they saw was a black journalist accusing a white politician of racism and were excited about a white politician not allowing himself to be rolled.

          I’m not saying this point of view is particularly defensible, but that’s my reading of it. I will say that the accusations of how terrible racist South Carolinians are (or SC Republicans, at any rate) feed into the mentality that caused the cheers.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 says:

             I think what they saw was a black journalist accusing a white politician of racism and were excited about a white politician not allowing himself to be rolled.

            Was Williams accusing Newt of being a racist? I don’t seem to remember that part, from the debate. Sure. liberal bloggers have called Newt a racist or pandering to racists, but I don’t remember Juan Williams the black journalist accusing Newt the white politician of being a racist.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Oh, just because they saw it does not mean it happened. We see what we are conditioned (or condition ourselves) to see.Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 says:

                If the journalist in question is white, do you think they would have had the same response? Regarding the “putting him in his place” and “being excited about a white politician not allowing himself to be rolled”.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Truthfully, I’m not sure how it would have gone. Just like I don’t know how things would have played out if it were Herman Cain instead of Newt Gingrich.

                If you’re looking for me to claim that there is no racism in the South Carolina GOP, that is not what I am saying at all. Just to be clear.

                What I am saying, to the extent that I am saying anything, is that this is at least partially an issue of excessive defensiveness. Saying “We will NOT allow ourselves to be called racist” rather than approaching it a more constructive (and inward) way.Report

  9. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Newt using the same song as Obama did at the ’08 convention = Irony? I think?Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    According to ABC anyway, Newt won tonight. Romney second, Santorum third, and That Man came in fourth.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    And speaking of nice long droughts from theocracy wells, there’s this article here.

    A row has erupted over an atheist society at a top London University posting a cartoon sketch featuring the prophet Muhammad having a drink with Jesus on its Facebook page.

    A student Muslim group is demanding the ‘offensive’ image of Jesus and Mo having a drink at the bar, taken from an online satirical sketch, be removed from the social networking site.

    The president of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society at the prestigious University College London (UCL), Robbie Yellon, has stepped down over the controversy.

    Now, of course, England doesn’t have a First Amendment and it doesn’t have similar traditions of freedom of Religion and it still even has an established church and everything and cannot claim the same Enlightenment Traditions that the US has tattooed on its butt.

    This is still an interesting contrast.Report

    • Avatar mark boggs says:

      Sort of way off topic, but they are actually investigating and discussing possible charges against English and Chelsea center back John Terry for racial slurs he purportedly used in a football game.  I play with an English guy in our Mexican soccer league here in St. George and he is absolutely amazed that we could essentially use racist terms all day in a game with our hispanic friends and not be held legally accountable for it.  We’d just be racists.Report

    • Avatar billm99uk says:

      And of course the ironic thing about that little bust-up is that the objection came from the Ahmadiyya Society. For those who don’t know, the Ahmadiyya are a Muslim sub-sect who are almost universally persecuted throughout the Islamic world as heretics and are liable often to be subject to random violence and, err… having their speech suppressed.Report

  12. Avatar Steve S. says:


    Not necessary.  Gingrich is a classic and unremarkable case.  His supporters like him because he sounds like an intellectual, and they are exactly right; he sounds like one.  It’s a talent to be sure, but one that we needn’t expend a great deal of effort deconstructing.  When you plow into the actual content it is as laughable as anything coming from Bachmann or Santorum.


  13. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Submitted without comment, for your consideration:

     I had a very interesting dialogue Monday night in Myrtle Beach with Juan Williams about the idea of work, which seemed to Juan Williams to be a strange, distant concept, something worthy of study, in an academic environment.