Tonight sk and I went to hear Susan Jacoby speak at OSU. She's written a history of American secularism called Freethinkers
. She was quick to point out that the secular American government was the first of its kind. The American constitution says that the power of the government comes from "we the people" rather than the divine. I couldn't help but think of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
where King Arthur runs into some peasants
working in the field and has some trouble when he asks for info:
Arthur: I am your king!
Woman: Well, I didn't vote for you.
Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well, how did you become King, then?
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king!
Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Be quiet!
The scene is funny because it points out that ideas about government have changed over the centuries. Of course this has little to do with Jacoby's talk, and I'm not doing her talk justice with a Python quote. But it was great to hear her speaking strongly for freedom of thought, and pointing out the reasons why we have a secular government today. Even though discussing secularism isn't in vogue right now, I do believe it's important to remember that separation of church and state—ending the idea of a compulsory state religion—has been a key element in the success of the American experiment. I picked up her book, and I'm looking forward to learning more.