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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Supreme Court's Status Quo Broken?

Stephen Prothero is an author I’d only heard about through his book Religious Literary: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t, which notes the irony of our country’s high religiosity and advocacy of “Christian values” and yet the common ignorance of basic knowledge of the Bible. Now that he’s a contributor on CNN’s Belief Blog, I will follow him in his future posts. His commentary focuses on the imbalance that has occurred with the new support of Elena Kagan by President Obama. With Paul Stevens leaving the Justices and being the last Protestant to stay in the Supreme Court since the numbers started dwindling, Kagan’s presence would make 3 Jews alongside the 6 Catholics that have persisted. Many might complain on the grounds that the commonly Protestant presence of justices in the Supreme Court has now disappeared completely. Even with the Congress at 55% Protestant, their lack of representation in the judicial system disappoints many, no doubt.

But Prothero, along with scholar Nora Rubel, argues that the Protestant influence in America will persist, even with the range of Justices in the Supreme Court now skewed between Judaism and more traditional Catholic Christianity. The crux of this idea falls on the idea that Protestantism has influenced Catholicism and Judaism in America to an extent many may not recognize, including the obvious presence of almost universally Protestant presidents in the White House (excluding John F. Kennedy primarily). But the most important of these influences from the Reformation on Catholic and Jewish thinking today is the recognition of religion as a personal decision, the communal influence incidental to the person choosing a faith and the practice of the religion not as important as the adherence to creeds (which I would dispute as a student of religious studies myself, but that’s for another day). William James, a thinker I am thinking of studying deeper in grad school in the future, put forth the definition that fuels this idea of religion as a primarily individual decision and area of consideration; "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” With this in mind, the psychological aspects of religion are of primary concern, not the social or political potential one’s religious beliefs would have within those spheres of consideration. As little meaning as I may find in many of the Protestant teachings, if this decidedly individualistic bent is any indication of Protestant theology, it is certainly part of our heritage that I can appreciate nonetheless. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

And on an unrelated note, I will not be blogging as much as I used to, having a 35 hour work week. Hopefully I can work on a movie review occasionally on the weekends. Tomorrow, I’ll be updating my poetry for the last time until more comes from my imagination.

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