Quote of the Day

Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life

-Lord Melbourne, rebuking William Wilberforce for invoking Christian arguments against slavery

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

40 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. as an avid student of the abolition movements in both england and the u.s. i understand both the role that dissenting and unorthodox religious groups played in both movements as well as the position such groups held in their respective societies to an extens such that i think i grasp it.

    1. extent not extens.

      to whomever might be interested in making improvements to the site–

      if you don’t want us to be able to edit our responses, which i can understand, at least let us have a way to see how our comment looks and then have the ability to confirm the comment.

        1. Nah. Would you deprive the bloggers of the privilege of being able, unlike the common herd, to correct or delete our comments and even add pretty pictures?

  2. I don’t know about resonances we Americans can’t hear, but those who want to want to weaken the separation of church and state would love this quote. Their point is that Christianity is good for the country. It promotes good stuff like getting rid of slavery, so the more we allow Christianity into the public life, the better off we’ll be. (They usually say “religion,” but what they have in mind is Christianity, though sometimes they’ll refer to “the Judeo-Christian tradition” so as not to alienate The Weekly Standard crowd.)

    1. Yes, as if we can’t possibly discus morality without religious “leaders” trumping all other voices. And as if religious leaders can ever find comity much less mutual respect. Most religious ideology seems to be a search for justification for the stuff people want to do.

      1. Correction: Most ideology seems to be a search for justification for the stuff people want to do.

        Religion is just one of the means employed.

    2. It is a curious feature of Christians to think that saying “Judeo-Christian” lessens offense given to Jews. The whole term implies (fairly falsely) that Christianity is a continuation of and supercedes Judaism, an assertion of the expropriation of the Jewish legacy. You never hear about “Christeo-Mormon” or “Christeo-Islamic” values, after all.

      1. Agreed that “Judeo-Christian” is offensive to Jews, or at least this Jew. But it has offended me for two very different reasons. First and worst, it has a patronizing “little brother” tone. Second (as Warren points out) it is exclusive of the other Abrahamic faiths. (Although LDS do consider themselves to be Christians, so “Christeo-Mormon” would be a direct insult to their faith: more so than “Judeo-Christian.”)

        1. Can’t remember who it was that said “The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ has a lot in common with the ‘Serbo-Croatian.’ “

      2. Interesting perspective. I take it as an acknowledgement that much of Christian morality (at least the parts under discussion) are derived from Judaism. Crediting one’s sources should never be offensive – and this Jew, it is definitely not.

        1. That’s how I have interpreted the phrase, as an ex-Christian: a reference to values common to both (and thus originating in the older tradition) but without any reference to the latter part of the phrase being superior to the former. It’s been around too long to have had to deal with claims from Islam to be part of that tradition, so it does not intentionally exclude such a claim. However, figuring out how to include Islam would (a) probably be more trouble than it’s worth as phrase-making – better just find something else entirely, and (b) raise the hackles of those who figure there’s a conflict, not a harmony, between the shared values of Jews and Christians and those of Muslims.

          1. That “harmony” between Christianity and Judaism is largely an illusion, something seen only from one side of the divide. Indeed, this is exactly the problem.

        2. But please bear in mind what amounts to the repudiation of Jewish law by St. Paul, whose writing more or less created Christianity.

          1. Also consider the entire history of Christianity, with its often violent repudiation of the Jews, and the eschatology of the modern millennialist Christians, who loudly proclaim their love of Israel because their Book tells them their God will return once the Jews have gathered there to be slaughtered, save a remnant that converts to Christianity. This last group in particular loves the term “Judeo-Christian”.

          2. I don’t think ‘Judeo-Christian values’ is intended as a reference to Jewish or Christian law, such as it is. After all, St Paul’s rules included that women should keep their heads covered and their mouths shut. It’s intended to emphasize the commonalities. I am confident that the expression was not invented by people whose reaction to Jews was ‘Christ-killers’ or ‘let’s have another pogrom’, but by people who thought that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount creaed some kind of workable high-level moral point of view.

            That said, I think I’d be inclined not to use the phrase, given the responses of some of the folks here, except that I’m not inclined to use it anyway because I don’t consider religions to be a reliable soruce of moral instruction or social values. (Parts of them, yes, but as systems, not so much.)

      3. My impression is that the people who say “Judeo-Christian” tend to be Christians who looove the OLD testament.

        Whatever the New, Improved Testament may offer, they just can’t live without the Old Testament’s prohibitions on Sodomy, Onanism, and so forth.

        But you remind me of one of Bill Maher’s rants on the stupidity of a large segment of the American public. After citing a poll in which something like 40% of respondents did not know that Judaism pre-dates Christianity, Maher said something like: “That’s right, 40% of Americans can look at a book called The New Testament and a book called The Old Testament, and not be able to figure out which came first.”


  3. I know relatively little about the role played by churches in the British anti-slavery movement.

    In the US, religion was a factor on both the pro-slavery and anti-slavery side. Some churches and denominations opposed slavery, others supported it.

    1. That is an excellent point that occurred to me immediately. Slavery advocates in the United States used biblical arguments extensively. One wonders if Lord Melbourne knew or cared.

    2. in the u.s. the big denominations fractured sectionally over slavery while the abolitionists represented a loose and argumentative coalition of beliefs ranging from the transcendentalist unitarians to the “come-outers” and perfectionists of the garrisonian abolitionists.

    3. On the Chocolate Tour in Boston, they told us that Cadbury and his business rivals ended slavery. The Quakers went in to the new non-discrimitory business of chocolate making and refused to by beans from plantations that used slave labor. This weakened the argument of the sugar producers that they could not run their plantations without slaves.

      As I said, I was told this on the Chocolate Tour while on the van going to Ho Chi Minh’s old employer to have Boston Cream Pie. I really don’t know if it is true but I have decided to believe it because I WANT TO.

  4. Public policy should stand or fall on its secular merits. Religious folks cited the Bible in support of slavery, and did so accurately.

  5. Most American readers will not have a clear notion of what the “establishment” of the Church of England really consisted of and how the system was worked — after the century-and-a-half of intermittently-violent political crisis that its creation led to.

    Neither will they quite get Melbourne’s meaning when he uses the seemingly-innocuous phrase “public life”, which approximately means “the political system”.

    At the very least, you ought to date the quote: but, there again, who will realize the importance of the distinction whether it was before or after the Reform Bill?

    Melbourne’s attitude appears to have been that the Church of England, having been “established”, ought to be content with those grants of privilege and do its thing in its own sandbox without bothering the political system (i.e., Lord Melbourne).

    So when the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States leads off with “no established church!”, does the difference come to end or means? Are the Brits saying the way to keep the Church out of politics is to put it in a box (a very comfortable box), while the American Founders say, no, the way to keep the Church out of politics is to not even have an (established, capital-C) Church?

    1. I don’t think that the American system is to keep the Church out of politics. It is mostly to keep politics out of the Church, with a superadded extra-Constitutional bit about keeping the Church out of partisan politics or the kind of politics that would blow back into the Church.

      Still the best unknown piece on the First Amendment is William Findley’s “Observations on the Two Sons of Oil”. Findley was a weaver, a brilliant anti-Federalist with a prominent concilator’s role in the Whiskey Rebellion, a devout Covenanter, and an elected politician from Western Pennsylvania. Quite a guy. He used the Bible to defend the First Amendment.

    2. Neither will they quite get Melbourne’s meaning when he uses the seemingly-innocuous phrase “public life”, which approximately means “the political system”.

      Why would you think that? I’m American, and I think that’s obvious. Granted, my father’s a Brit…

    3. And, of course, those who opposed revoking that privileged status of the Church of England were the advocates of antidisestablishmentarianism. The spell checker does like that one; need a better spell checker.

  6. Slavey was abolished in the British Empire in 1833 under Lord Grey´s Whig government, of which Lord Melbourne was a part. So in the end he did the right thing, without enthusiasm. Contrast Jefferson´s fine sentiments and inaction.

  7. Wilberforce’s religion might have explained why HE was opposed to slavery, but one needn’t practice any religion to recognize slavery as an abomination to be eliminated. I have yet to hear a religious argument on my side of any issue that could not be supplanted by a secular argument. The reverse is, sadly, not true. For example, both religious and secular people do undisputedly good works among the poor of Africa. Only the religious tell the poor of Africa that despite how poor, overpopulated, and AIDS-ravaged they are, it is a sin to use condoms.

      1. Possibly, but failure to use condoms in an AIDS-ravaged society would appear to ameliorate neither.

      2. perhaps between ameliorating their condition in the here-and-now and ameliorating their condition in the hereafter. Those of us who aren’t expecting a hereafter would be inclined to concentrate on the former.

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