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This Christian Nation

Posted by Rick · October 21st, 2004 · 2 Comments

I have sometimes been accused of attacking Christians and Christianity. Frankly, while I understand why some people mistakenly believe that is (one of) my (many) motivation(s), they are wrong. While I do not feel a need or a desire to be a Christian, the true Christian tradition is an honorable one. It actually bothers me to be thought of as an enemy of Christians or Christianity. I do not savor being called a filthy, heretical Jew. There is no joy in living at the center of a social schism. But as Kierkegaard said,

Verily there is that which is more contrary to Christianity, and to the very nature of Christianity, than any heresy, any schism, more contrary than all heresies and all schisms combined, and that is, to play Christianity. But precisely in the very same sense that the child plays soldier, it is playing Christianity to take away the danger (Christianly, “witness” and “danger” correspond), and in place of this to introduce power (to be a danger to others), worldly goods, advantages, luxurious enjoyment of the most exquisite refinements . . . . Søren Kierkegaard, A Witness to the Truth?, in Kierkegaard’s Attack Upon “Christendom” 1854-1855 5, 8 (Walter Lowrie, trans., 1968), italics in original.

I preface this article in this way because I am afraid that some people will immediately jump to the conclusion that I am attacking Christians, or Christianity, and will miss the important message I am attempting to broadcast about George Bush and the mistake of the Christian Right in working to establish an American theocracy.

It is a mistake to be avoided — and feared — by Christians and non-Christians alike.

This article is actually the first of what I expect will be a two-part series. Although it may seem that I still owe an installment on another series — I mentioned a couple days ago that I would be writing a series of articles responding to comments from one of our readers — this is actually a chunk of thought that sprang out of my writing about trial lawyers. It concerns “foundational issues” — the rule of law is the primary foundational issue — and how George Bush is endangering them.

Today, it is specifically the Foundation of the United States which I want to discuss. In a later article, which I’ve already started writing, called “G-d’s President,” I will more specifically address President Bush’s (perhaps unintentional) destruction of that Foundation through his actions as the principle “theocratician.”

I realize that True Believers (in Bush, by the way, not G-d) are not going to like this article. But, frankly, I’m surprised as all get-out that Christians aren’t more frightened of a second Bush term than I am. The existence of President Bush, all by itself, almost converts me to dispensationalist Christianity. Right after that, I want to buy and memorize all of Hal Lindsey’s books, along with the Book of Revelation. But we’ll get into more of that in “G-d’s President.”

The Foundation of the United States of America

Let’s talk about that Foundation first. The Foundation of our nation was described most succinctly by Chief Justice John Marshall in (Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 163 (Cranch) (1803)) when he said that the United States government is “a government of laws, and not of men.”

The Founders of our nation, depending upon whom you ask, were either Christians (possibly, of a sort) or Deists (probably somewhat more likely) or Humanists who had been raised in various Christian traditions (most likely of all). More than anything, they were children of the Enlightenment. It may be hard for us to believe today, still in the first (hopefully last) term of George Bush, but the world was once enamored of science. The Enlightenment saw a conscious shaking off of the pure mysticism of devout and unquestioning faith of the Dark Ages. This attitude — and the Age of Enlightenment — was the natural outgrowth of the Age of Reason birthed by Pascal, Leibniz, Galileo and Descartes which had immediately preceded it. Kant, writing in 1784, perhaps explained the attitude of the day best:

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence! Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?, in The Age of Enlightenment, Wikipedia (last visited October 21, 2004).

That is, in fact, just what these men did. Systematic thinkers and astute political thinkers — Ralph Ketcham notes that 1765 to 1776 “were years of vigorous, creative political thinking which produced hundreds of pamphlets, newspaper articles, and other writings on questions of representative government and confederation” — some, like Thomas Paine, were “international revolutionaries.” The Anti-Federalist and the Constitutional Convention Debates, at p. 1 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003); Mark Philp, Introduction, in Thomas Paine: Rights of Man; Common Sense; and Other Political Writings 83, vii (Mark Philp, ed., 1995). Others, like James Madison, deliberately “undertook systematic study of ‘Ancient and Modern Confederacies’ [most of which were Greek, not Christian] to glean ideas for improving the American confederacy.” (The Anti-Federalist and the Constitutional Convention Debates, at p. 31 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003).)

It was a good thing, too, for the task ahead of them was daunting. Ketcham notes,

Edmund Burke stated the problem succinctly: “to make a government requires no great prudence; settle the seat of power, teach obedience, and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form a free government, that is, to temper together the opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one conscious work, requires much thought; deep reflection; a sagacious, powerful and combining mind.” The Anti-Federalist and the Constitutional Convention Debates, at p. 7 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003).

This was so because “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (U.S. Const. Preamble) the “[r]ights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not to be submitted to a vote or to depend on the outcome of elections; that is, not even the consent of the governed could legitimately abridge them.” (The Anti-Federalist and the Constitutional Convention Debates, at p. 5 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003).)

The Place of Christianity in American Government

What’s missing in all this? Christianity.

As difficult as it is to believe, it doesn’t really take much for anyone willing to read just a few of the “hundreds of pamphlets, newspaper articles, and other writings on questions of representative government and confederation” to see that the Foundation of the United States of America was not some version of Christianity. This would have been impossible. Then, as now, the varieties of the Christian experience were disparate. Then, as now, there were Christian sects which differed widely enough that they considered one another heathen. When you think about the difference between Anabaptists (ancestors to the Amish, Baptists and Quakers, among others), the Pentecostals (Church of G-d, Assemblies of G-d) and the Fundamentalists (to which many of the so-called “Christian Right” belong), you begin to understand why a theocratic form of government would not work. And that doesn’t even account for the Unitarians (as opposed to the Trinitarians) or the Catholics!

So adamant were our Founders on this point that the Constitution they wrote — the one the early colonists of all religious stripes voted to ratify — contains no mention of Christianity. The very word “Christian” never appears within the Constitution. On the contrary, the original Constitution mentions religion only to say:

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. U.S. Const. Art. VI, cl. 3, italics added.

The word “G-d,” the name “Jesus” and the title “Christ” are all conspicuously absent from the Constitution which all officers of the United States are “bound by Oath or Affirmation” to support. It’s noteworthy that even here, the phrase is “Oath or Affirmation” — indicative of the fact that some people will not, or cannot, swear an “oath.”

Similarly, when the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to the Constitution — came into being, the only mention of religion was in the First Amendment, which says,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .. U.S. Const. Amend. I.

Many Christians today — George Bush is apparently among them — have a difficult time reconciling this. “Make no law respecting an establishment . . . the free exercise thereof.” They sometimes argue that the attempt to stop the government from giving the appearance of establishing a religion infringes their free exercise thereof! (Orwell, stop that spinning. You’re making me dizzy.)

But were our Founders really so stupid? Could they possibly have put two irreconcilable statements right next to each other? Answer: No. It’s entirely possible to freely practice your religion without the government establishing monuments to your religion inside courthouses or putting up crosses in your town center. The absence of such idols built by government funds or displayed on government property does not stop anyone from freely practicing any religion they want. On the contrary, government display of religious symbols is taken as some kind of tacit endorsement. How much would folk howl if the government put a pentagram inside the courthouse?

The fact that Christianity was excluded from the functions of government does not, however, mean that it was intended to be excluded from the life of the people. Although firmly schooled and ensconced in the Enlightenment spirit that took a systematic, studied approach to the world, many of the Founders were justifiably called Christians. Like President Bush, many were men of great faith. Washington, Jefferson and numerous other Founders left behind quotes referring to their personal beliefs. (It is noteworthy, however, that since the Bible as many Protestants know it today did not exist — the Americanized “King James Bible” came into being around 1885 — their brand of Christianity was quite different from that of modern-day Christians.)

The difference is that they were cognizant of the fact that these were their personal beliefs. That’s why they debated and fought so hard to keep any government endorsement of these beliefs out of the Constitution, out of the government. Not wanting anyone else to impose his — women didn’t have this power in the late 1700s — beliefs upon them, they voluntarily refrained from imposing theirs on others.

The Danger of Theocracy

The Founders of our nation recognized something that at least the conservative right-wing Christians of today do not.

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (Jewish Publication Society 1988).

They also heeded that writer when he said,

Be not overeager to go to the House of G-d: more acceptable is obedience than the offering of fools, for they know nothing [but] to do wrong. Ecclesiastes 4:17 (Jewish Publication Society 1988), brackets in original.

The Founders recognized that not everything they built had to be imbued throughout with their personal views of G-d. The system of government they built had a specific purpose; they were not building a Church. How foolish would it be for a group of Christian auto-makers to insist that every vehicle they manufactured somehow trumpeted, or even just supported, the Deity of Christ? When you buy a refrigerator, are you thinking of how well it will glorify your G-d? Do you decorate your washing machine with Christian artifacts? Do IBM, Pacific Gas & Electric, the New York Stock Exchange, or the NASDAQ ring forth with hosannas? Does their failure to do so impinge your freedom of religion?

In spite of the attempts to enshrine marble monuments to the Ten Commandments in our courthouses, however, the danger isn’t in the decor. The persistent battle to enjoy government funding of religious symbolism is just that — symbolism. More important than the often-beautiful idols we apparently need in order to believe we’re really religious, some want to enshrine particular religious beliefs in our laws. Refusing to accept that “all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (U.S. Declaration of Independence) and that there are religions that believe all includes non-Christians, or that there are even Christian sects that believe homosexuals are part of “all,” they will lobby hard to destroy the Constitution — even by amending it to deny rights, if necessary, to some of the “all.”

These Christians — and please keep in mind that we’re talking about a (powerful) sub-group; we’re not maligning all Christians here — apparently are unable to freely exercise their religious beliefs unless they are able to squelch the freedom of others. And if you think it’s only homosexuals who suffer because of this — and you’re okay with homosexuals being denied rights — go take a look at my “Religious Wars” article to find out what this type of Christian Theocracy looks like for women wanting birth control pills. That’s birth control, not abortion, I’m talking about. But, then, that same group of Christians isn’t too wild about abortion, either. (They aren’t alone; they’re just the most vocal.)

This type of Christian is upset that people mistakenly (in their opinion) believe they have a right to love whomever they wish or to make love whenever they wish, free of Christian constraints or pregnancies. Those things aren’t in the Constitution!” some of them shout.

These are the sort of people that caused our Founders to establish a Constitution in “solemn, deliberate acts of the people [that] established a ‘higher law’ that a majority of the legislature or even of the people would be forbidden to violate.” (The Anti-Federalist and the Constitutional Convention Debates, at p. 5 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003).) These are the people that worried James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other Federalists who lobbied against creating a Bill of Rights to go along with the Constitution. As Wilson argued at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on October 6, 1787,

A bill of rights annexed to a constitution is an enumeration of the powers reserved. If we attempt an enumeration, everything that is not enumerated is presumed to be given. The consequence is, that an imperfect enumeration would throw all implied powers into the scale of the government; and the rights of the people would be rendered incomplete. David N. Mayer, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson 147 (1994).

And even though the Founders, when they finally caved in to popular demand for a Bill of Rights, tried to compensate for this danger with the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, their fears have largely come to pass. Today, the majority of Americans seem to think that they have only the rights the Constitution allows. They do not realize that it really works the other way around: the only rights you don’t have are the ones we, as a nation, deliberately gave up in order to empower the government to achieve the goals for which it was created.

Those goals did not include the establishment of a theocracy.

Therein, I believe, lies the true danger of a Bush Presidency. Just as Hal Lindsey’s Anti-Christ doesn’t come blaring on the scene, but gradually evolves his fascistic system, so, too, is George Bush becoming increasingly strident in his make-over of the United States. But we don’t need to go whacko like our friend Hal to recognize the danger.

When despotism has established itself for ages in a country . . . it is not in the person of the King only that it resides. It has the appearance of being so in show, and in nominal authority; but it is not so in practice and in fact. It has its standard every-where. Every office and department has its despotism, founded upon custom and usage. Every place has its Bastille, and ever Bastille its despot. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, in Rights of Man; Common Sense; and Other Political Writings 89, 98 (Mark Philp, ed., 1995).

The President is merely a tool, albeit an extremely willing one, of a minority which, through its political activism in the face of national apathy and lassitude, has become powerful enough to function as a political majority. And they, through this President, are exercising just what James Madison, writing to George Washington, aimed to prevent: “the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and of individuals.” James Madison, James Madison to George Washington (April 16, 1787), in The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates 31, 31 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 2003), italics in original.

For those of you who managed to make it this far, I apologize for the length of this article. The ideas I’m trying to explain do not lend themselves well to soundbites. The next article in this series, “G-d’s President,” will be shorter as the Foundation — or, rather, the explanation of it — has been laid. Meanwhile, consider the words of Thomas Paine:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sun-shine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered: yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Thomas Paine, American Crisis, in Rights of Man; Common Sense; and Other Political Writings 63, 63 (Mark Philp, ed., 1995), italics in original.

Do not shrink from the service of your country. On November 2, 2004, vote against theocracy. Send the message that you desire that America remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Categories: Religion


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gweny // Oct 22, 2004 at 10:55 am

    A-men, brother (pun intended)!
    How eloquent you are! I am going to post a link to your article on my website, please let me know if you’d like me to take it down.

    We’ve got to find more free thinkers to go out and vote and keep Bush from pinning us down under his Christian thumb!

  • 2 G-d’s President // Sep 17, 2008 at 8:57 am

    […] article is the second in a series. The first article in this set, titled “This Christian Nation,” looked at the Foundation of the United States of America — particularly at the point that […]

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