Separation of Church and State

I suppose I'm about as left-liberal as anyone participating in these Motets, and I agree with the Supreme Court's thinking in the recent case of Kelo v. City of New London -- namely that an educational review of the diverse historical roots of Law in Western Civilization is an appropriate function of government, but promoting any single religious perspective over all other voluntary belief systems is an inappropriate corruption of the educational process.

But there is still an issue that the Supreme Court hasn't adequately addressed -- namely the definition of religion in the context of the "Separation of Church and State" (as provided for in the US Constitution):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The problem, as I see it, is the vagueness of the term 'religion' in the Establishment Clause.

To my mind, a religion is any set of beliefs and associated (ritual) practices that one may elect to invest their faith and confidence in.

But consider that this definition includes mythological belief systems as well as scientific belief systems.

So, for example, I believe in Science and the rituals of the Scientific Method, even though one cannot rigorously prove that the Tenets of Science will reliably yield accurate theories about the world in which we find ourselves embedded. Indeed, there are many branches of science which many thoughtful people have reasonable skepticism about.

But as a scientist, (or would-be schmeggegy scientist, if you prefer), I look for myths and misconceptions that scientific research needs to overthrow, lest we become ensnared in delusional belief systems.

The controversy over the intelligence reports regarding the doubtful belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction is a case in point. I dunno too many scientists who would have adopted the belief that Iraq had any WMDs, based on the evidence, analysis, and reasoning that one would expect of a diligent scientist. To my mind, the President's claim to that effect was a bamboozlement from the gitgo.

What I don't know is whether Bush was merely deluded, or whether he knew the claim to be bogus. I hope he was merely deluded. But then I'm not too sanguine about having delusional politicians running the country.

Which brings me to my next point.

When the Framers wrote the Constitution, I daresay they uniformly believed in the Rule of Law (which I prefer to call the Hammurabic Method of Social Regulation, after the best known historical figure who was among the first to compile a written code of laws).

Ironically enough Hammurabi of Babylonia (aka Mesopotamia) ruled over the same piece of planetary real estate as Saddam Hussein.

One can Google up the Code of Hammurabi. It's not a very long document (only 282 laws, most of which are just a sentence or two), and it's rather fascinating to read it. The actual numbered set of laws are sandwiched between opening and closing paragraphs known as the Prologue and the Epilogue. They're a riot to read.

You don't need a graduate degree in Psychology to diagnose Hammurabi as a hopeless Narcissist, and deathly afraid of Narcissistic Wounding.

But I digress.

The Rule of Law is predicated on an important secular belief -- namely that rule-driven system are capable of yielding order and stability, rather than chaos and instability (at least if the "right" set of rules are set down on the stone tablets).

Now this is a widely held secular belief, captured in the catch-phrase Law and Order.

But is that secular belief well-grounded? Or is it a myth?

Around 1890, a French mathematician named Henri Poincaré stumbled across the first evidence that rule-driven systems are not necessarily orderly. Poincaré was trying to solve a famous open problem in mathematics that dated back to Newton. Assuming that Newton's Model of Gravitational Mechanics is correct, can you rigrously prove that the Solar System is a clock -- orderly and predictable.

Poincaré's astonishing discovery was that the Solar System (and almost all gravitational systems with more than two bodies) is chaotic.

Today we know from Chaos Theory precisely what it takes for a system to be chaotic (in the mathematical sense of the term).

What's needed is at least some nonlinearity in the System Model.

Newton's Laws of Gravitational Mechanics only has two laws in it:

F = ma   and   the Inverse-Square Law of Gravity.

It's the Inverse Square Law that supplies the requisite nonlinearity.

Now look at any of the 282 laws in the Code of Hammurabi.

The basic grammatical structure of the laws is a sentence of the form

IF ... THEN ... OR ELSE ...

Let's look at a graph of that sentence, as a mathematical function:


It's a Heaviside Switch Function (also called a Step Function).

And it's highly nonlinear.

Well, I'll fast-forward to the bottom line. You can read the gory details here.

The bottom line is that Law and Order is a myth, an erroneous belief. And it's arguably the world's oldest widely practiced religion. Hammurabi wrote down his code of laws some 3750 years ago, give or take a coupla decades. Moses didn't arrive on the scene until some 500 years later (e.g. roughly 3250 years ago). Buddha (Gautama Siddhartha) did his systems thinking about 2500 years ago. And almost everyone knows that Jesus of Nazareth proposed his Covenant Model some 2000 years ago.

Anyway, what you really get, if you bother to do the math, is Hammurabism and Liminal Social Drama. And as everyone knows, Drama is highly unpredictable, and full of unexpected surprises. The only person who really understood the script for the psychodrama known as the Passion of Christ is Rabbi Yeshua (aka Jesus of Nazareth), who knew beforehand almost exactly what was going to happen to him.

The TV series Law and Order plays in endless reruns on the TNT cable channel. And TNT's motto is "We know drama."

By the way, take a look at the very first of Hammurabi's laws:

1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

Those of you who have been following the long-running Creamy Comic Opera Musical Scape-Goat PsychoDrama in these Motets might pause to thank their lucky stars that falsely accusing someone isn't a hanging offense in the 21st Century.

For more information see also Punishment and Violence: Is the Criminal Law Based on One Huge Mistake? by James Gilligan.