Monday, February 15, 2010

Christian Founders

The New York Times asks, How Christian Were the Founders?

This is not a controversial question. The Founders were quite thoroughly Christian. A few, such as Jefferson and Franklin, were heretical - deists and free-thinkers. None of them were today's ridiculous rigid fundamentalists.

Still, by and large, they were Christians.

That's why it's even more remarkable that they intentionally built a clearly secular government (Constitution, Article VI):

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
A perfect opportunity to require Christianity, and they not only missed it, they slammed the door shut on anyone else deciding to require worship of Jesus.

Reason is not the force guiding the fundamentalists. Here's a piece of evidence:
[Cynthia Dunbar, assistant law professor at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and member of the Texas board of education] began the lecture by discussing a national day of thanksgiving that Gen. George Washington called for after the defeat of the British at Saratoga in 1777 — showing, in her reckoning, a religious base in the thinking of the country’s founders. In developing a line of legal reasoning that the future lawyers in her class might use, she wove her way to two Supreme Court cases in the 1960s, in both of which the court ruled that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. A student questioned the relevance of the 1777 event to the court rulings, because in 1777 the country did not yet have a Constitution. “And what did we have at that time?” Dunbar asked. Answer: “The Declaration of Independence.” She then discussed a legal practice called “incorporation by reference.” “When you have in one legal document reference to another, it pulls them together, so that they can’t be viewed as separate and distinct,” she said. “So you cannot read the Constitution distinct from the Declaration.” And the Declaration famously refers to a Creator and grounds itself in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Therefore, she said, the religiosity of the founders is not only established and rooted in a foundational document but linked to the Constitution. From there she moved to “judicial construction and how you should go forward with that,” i.e., how these soon-to-be lawyers might work to overturn rulings like that against prayer in schools by using the founding documents.
The Times makes one of its usual soft demurrals from this obvious bullshit. I'm not that mushy. You want to incorporate by reference? First requirement: mention the document you're incorporating. The Constitution doesn't mention the Declaration.

The rest of Dunbar's reasoning is equally a thin tissue of bullshit. Thanksgiving after victory at Saratoga is completely outside of legal precedent. Would the fact that the Founders went (or didn't go) to Christian services be probative of anything in law? When assembled to codify the law, did the Founders incorporate their religious observances into the law? Uh, no. And it's a flat no that the Times' writer, Russell Shorto, should have been clear about.

The fundies' behavior tells me that the culture war is a long war. In the name of establishing a Christian caliphate in America, they are prepared to keep from all our children anything they disagree with.

If we - liberals and secularists like the Founders before us - don't fight back, we'll lose what they bequeathed us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this (hurts). Even as a devout Christian, I cannot and would not support any constitutional amendment to eradicate, segregate or eliminate from our society any certain religions. We are free here to worhsip as we like. Yes, the founders were probable religious of sorts (who the hell really knows), but they knew they had to keep an even ground and the language to the point it would not impose strife for someone of "different morals". Of course these are the guys that all had or had no problem with slavery..right?