April 9, 2010

The Myth, part IV

Conclusion. Continued from The Myth, Part III

Up until now I’ve concentrated on the Deists, but there were Christians involved in the shaping of our nation. Their influence was muted compared to the ideological contributions of Jefferson, Madison and Adams, who pressed for, and gained popular approval for the formation of a secular nation.

Historian Clinton Rossiter had this to say about the composition of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and their religious views:

“[T]he gathering at Philadelphia was largely made up of men in whom the old fires were under control or had even flickered out. Most were nominally members of one of the traditional churches in their part of the country--the New Englanders Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, the Southerners Episcopalians, and the men of the Middle States everything from backsliding Quakers to stubborn Catholics--and most were men who could take their religion or leave it along. Although no one in this sober gathering would have dreamed of invoking the Goddess of Reason, neither would anyone have dared to proclaim that his opinions had the support of the God of Abraham and Paul. The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit.[i]

At the constitutional convention, Luther Martin, a representative from Maryland, wanted to include Christian language, saying that "it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism." This proposal was rejected.[ii]

Our constitution was drafted as a secular document with no mention of God anywhere in it. There is only one mention of religion, and that is in the negative. "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Consider then, if the delegates had intended to establish our country as a "Christian nation,as is claimed by Don McLeroy and so many of his ilk, why would they have inserted a statement like that in and not refer to religion anywhere else?

One would think, considering the weight of evidence, that reasonably intelligent grownups would be able to decipher that if the intention of was anything except the formation of a "Christian nation." If they had intended such, wouldn’t the document they authored have some references to the Bible, Jesus, or anything alluding to the Christian religion? Instead of expressly forbidding a religious test as a condition for holding public office, would they not have required some form of sworn allegiance to Christianity? Were our founders so clueless that they wrote a constitution that ENTIRELY FAILS to mention Christ or the Bible, when their true purpose was to create a “Christian nation?” How can there be any doubt that our founders of intended no such thing?

As further evidence, let us look at a document written during the administration of George Washington – The Treaty with Tripoli. Article 11 of the Treaty makes the fact that this country was not, and was not intended to be a “Christian nation,” specifically stating that "the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion..."[iii]

The treaty was negotiated by Joel Barlow, approved by George Washington while he was in office, and ratified by the senate under John Adams administration. As Adams signed the treaty, he added this statement: "Now, be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty, do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof."

The statement that the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion” was approved by the first two Presidents and the entirety of the Senate should dispel any and all doubts that our founders intended to create a “Christian nation,” or that there was any intent to do so.

Reason 1 – Superstition 0. Game over… or is it?

So what might be the last refuge for the fundamentalists? The logical inductive fallacy, of course.

Premise #1 – If most Americans are Christian, then America is a Christian nation.
Premise #2 – Most Americans are Christian.
Conclusion – America has always been a Christian nation.

Fundamentalists still argue that even if our founders did not purposefully establish our country as a Christian nation, our country was founded by people looking for religious liberty, and our population has always been overwhelmingly Christian, so therefore we are a Christian nation.

These are dubious assumptions. There certainly were colonists fleeing religious persecution in the old world, but history shows these very colonists established theocratic colonies as oppressive or more so than that which they fled. Heretical Quakers were exiled from the colony, and executed if they returned. So called "witches" were condemned and burned on the stake or hanged on questionable evidence. Do modern fundamentalists want a return to that kind of “Christian nation”?

The majority of the colonists were capitalists, driven by the desire for free land and profit. Monetary motives played heavily in their decision to venture into a new world. They very simply wanted to improve their economic status.

Our founders were learned men. Most colonists were peasants. So what about the religious beliefs of the general population? It certainly wasn’t as “Christian” as the fundamentalists would like you to believe – a fact that rational conservatives admit. As noted by Richard Hofstadter, some 90% of colonial Americans were “unchurched in 1790,” that "mid-eighteenth century America had a smaller proportion of church members than any other nation in Christendom," and noted that "in 1800 [only] about one of every fifteen Americans was a church member."[iv]

Yet another historian, James MacGregor Burns, states that "[t]here had been a `very wintry season' for religion every where in America after the Revolution," and adds that "ninety percent of the people lay outside the churches."[v]

Scientists and historians deal with facts. Theocrats and fundamentalists play with myth. Fact paints an entirely different picture of colonial America in our formative years than the image Don McLeroy, Wendy Lowe and the rest of the gang of revisionists wish you to believe. America was not founded on "biblical principles," and Thomas Jefferson was foremost of the enlightenment philosophers – regardless of what the dogmatists on the Texas State Board of Education wishes our children to believe.

We were formed as a religiously neutral nation, and the Christian assault on that freedom has never ceased. The Fundamentalists are winning, but the voices of reason refuse to surrender.

The church has striven to retard the growth of knowledge and reason since the origin of recorded history. Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, and a host of others have been denied, silenced or murdered in the name of dogma. Our founders were intent on reversing that trend.

Christian nation? Founded on Christian principles? I think not. But compare the historian’s view of the religious beliefs of the constitutional delegates with the radically different picture currently being painted by the fundamentalist members of the Texas State Board of Education. The board, dominated by fundamentalist, right wing, revisionist, theocrats, has unfortunately found the political leverage required to flush truth down the toilet, rewriting recorded history with superstition, fantasy and lies.

The textbook issue is in my part of the world so I have made it my battle. The world is laughing at us, and Texas has become the punch line of editorial cartoons. There are intelligent, reasonable people in Texas, and we’re tired of this crap. We’re fighting back.

You can join me if you want, by visiting the following sites and joining the cause. We’d appreciate any help you can offer. Donations gladly accepted.

P.S. If you still believe that America was founded as a "Christian nation," you're reading the wrong blog.

[i] Rossiter, C., 1787: The Grand Convention, W. W. Norton & Company
[ii] Kurkland, P. Lerner, R, The Founders’ Constitution, University of Chicago Press
[iii] Miller, H., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States, ed., Vol. 2, U. S. Government Printing Office
[iv] Hofstadter, R., Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing
[v] Burns, J.M., The American Experiment - Vineyard of Liberty, Vol. 1, Vintage Books


Anonymous said...

Damn fine series, MB! My sincere thanks and congratulations on a job well done!

Old NFO said...

Good post and good info! Thanks!

Habanero said...

Very good series. Sadly, the proponents of the "Christian Nation" belief have absolutely zero interest in hearing anything that contradicts their opinion-the complete antithesis of intellectually curious and honest.

Ambulance Driver said...

Heh, clashing with one of my long-time readers, a devout Catholic, over just that very thing.

Read my post, "Hunnert Percent Murkin" and the comments that follow.