Skip to comments.Fighting Words For A Secular America Ashcroft & Friends VS. George Washington & The Framers
Posted on 10/07/2006 5:02:57 PM PDT by restornu
Alert: Americans who honor the U.S. Constitutions strict separation of church and state are now genuinely alarmed. Agnostics and atheists, as well as observant people of every faith, fear sensibly that the religious right is gaining historic political power, via an ultraconservative movement with highly placed friends.
But many of us feel helpless. We havent read the Founding Documents since school (if then). We lack arguing tools, verbal karate evidence we can cite in defending a secular United States.
For instance, such extremists claim and, too often, we ourselves assume that U.S. law has religious roots. Yet the Constitution contains no reference to a deity.
The Declaration of Independence contains not one word on religion, basing its authority on the shocking idea that power is derived from ordinary people, which challenged European traditions of rule by divine right and/or heavenly authority. (Remember, George III was king of England and anointed head of its church.)
The words Natures God, the Creator and divine Providence do appear in the Declaration. But in its context an era, and author, Thomas Jefferson, that celebrated science and the Enlightenment these words are analogous to our contemporary phrase life force.
Jerry Falwell notoriously blamed 9/11 on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians [and other groups] who have tried to secularize America. Hes a bit late: In 1798, Alexander Hamilton accused Jefferson of a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity in the new republic. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence William Boykin thunders, Were a Christian nation.
But the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams proclaims: The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.
Offices for Faith-Based Initiatives with nearly $20 billion in grants have been established (by executive order, circumventing Congress) in 10 federal agencies, as well as inside the White House. This fails the Lemon Test, violating a 1971 Supreme Court decision (Lemon v. Kurtzman): first, a statute [or public policy] must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute [or policy] must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.
When Attorney General John Ashcroft repeatedly invokes religion, the Founders must be picketing in their graves. They were a mix of freethinkers, atheists, Christians, agnostics, Freemasons and Deists (professing belief in powers scientifically evinced in the natural universe). They surely were imperfect. Some were slaveholders.
Female citizens were invisible to them though Abigail Adams warned her husband John, If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
But the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion especially regarding secularism glows in the documents they forged and in their personal words.
THOMAS PAINE Paines writings heavily influenced the other Founders. A freethinker who opposed all organized religion, he reserved particular vituperation for Christianity. My country is the world and my religion is to do good (The Rights of Man, 1791).
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church (The Age of Reason, 1794).
Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity (Ibid.).
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN Raised a Calvinist, Franklin rebelled and spread that rebellion, affecting Adams and Jefferson. His friend, Dr. Priestley, wrote in his own Autobiography: It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers.
A scientist, Franklin rejected churches, rituals, and all supernatural superstitions.
Scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself (Franklins Autobiography, 181718).
Some volumes against Deism fell into my hands they produced an effect precisely the reverse to what was intended by the writers; for the arguments of the Deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appeared to me much more forcibly than the refutation itself; in a word, I soon became a thorough Deist (Ibid.).
GEORGE WASHINGTON The false image of Washington as a devout Christian was fabricated by Mason Locke Weems, a clergyman who also invented the cherry-tree fable and in 1800 published his Life of George Washington. Washington, a Deist and a Freemason, never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as It.
Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianitys central ceremony.
JOHN ADAMS Adams, a Unitarian inspired by the Enlightenment, fiercely opposed doctrines of supernaturalism or damnation, writing to Jefferson: I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!
Adams realized how politically crucial and imperiled a secular state would be: The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [forming the U.S. government] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses. Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind (A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 178788).
THOMAS JEFFERSON Its a commonly stated error that U.S. law, based on English common law, is thus grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.
Yet Jefferson (writing to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814 ) noted that common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
Jefferson professed disbelief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, while respecting moral teachings by whomever might have been a historical Jesus. He cut up a Bible, assembling his own version: The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful, he wrote Adams (January 24, 1814), evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.
Scorning miracles, saints, salvation, damnation, and angelic presences, Jefferson embraced reason, materialism, and science. He challenged Patrick Henry, who wanted a Christian theocracy: [A]n amendment was proposed by inserting Jesus Christ, so that [the preamble] should read A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion; the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination (from Jeffersons Autobiography, referring to the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom).
The theme is consistent throughout Jefferson s prolific correspondence: Question with boldness even the existence of a God (letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787).
[The clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man (letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800).
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which thus[built] a wall of separation between church and state (letter to the Danbury [ Connecticut ] Baptist Association, January 1, 1802).
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government (letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813).
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own (letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814).
[W]hence arises the morality of the Atheist? Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God (letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814).
I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know (letter to Ezra Stiles, June 25, 1819).
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter (letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823).
JAMES MADISON Although prayer groups proliferate in todays Congress, James Madison, father of the Constitution, denounced even the presence of chaplains in Congress and in the armed forces as unconstitutional. He opposed all use of religion as an engine of civil policy, and accurately prophesied the threat of ecclesiastical corporations.
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise (letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774).
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, Section 7, 1785).
What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries (Ibid., Section 8).
Besides the danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil Government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded agst. in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs. is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles. Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy. Religious proclamations by the Executive [branch] recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root. Altho recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers (Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments, circa 1819).
Thats only a sampling, quotes that blast cobwebs off the tamed images we have of the Founders. Their own statements not dead rhetoric but alive with ringing, still radical, ideas can reconnect us to our proud, secular roots, and should inspire us to honor and defend them.
The Founders minced no words and they acted on them. Dare we do less?
Are you muttering to yourself a lot lately? Do you gnash your teeth, shout at your TV set, compare incredulous notes with friends? Do you try to laugh at it all, or deal with it by sending a check to an organization? Do you feel yourself wearying from the dogged assaults of our homegrown American Taliban, chafing at cynical, political manipulations of personal faith, or hardening with indifference at the familiarity of Orwellian double-speak? (My favorite for today is Senator Orrin Hatchs Capital punishment is our society's recognition of the sanctity of human life.)
Do you feel helpless, as it keeps getting worse?
As I write this, in April, 2006, it no longer seems such a mystery that Europes Dark Ages could affirm superstitions that empowered the Church while eradicating knowledge of how to build aqueducts, trepan skulls for brain surgery, safely deliver or abort a pregnancy, construct indoor plumbing, practice sophisticated herbal medicine, or even simply read and write.
Today, science in the United Statesonce a world leader in virtually every research fieldis under intense assault from the extreme religious right, via its White House representative, President George W. Bush. No matter how vast the scientific consensus that fossil fuels constitute a principal factor in climate change, Bushs administration still wont sign the Kyoto Protocol (and still speaks longingly of oil-drilling in the Alaskan wilderness). In 2006, the National Institutes of Health budget is being cutfor the first time in 36 years. The U.S. now educates fewer scientists each year, and now imports more high-tech products than it exports. Bush administration policy dictates that one-third of all government HIV-prevention spendinghundreds of millionsmust go to abstinence until marriage programs, while government funding for programs that support condom use have been eviscerated (this, despite the failure rate for abstinence programs proving many times higher than for condom use). The Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control have both been forced to take positions that please religious conservatives despite being contrary to their own scientific findingson the morning after Plan B pill and on condom use--provoking public resignations of scientists from both federal agencies. Reginald Finger, an evangelical Focus on the Family member and Bush appointee to the CDC Immunization Committee, says he might actually oppose an HIV vaccine if one becomes available: With any vaccine for HIV, dis-inhibition [freedom from fear, presumably of sex] would certainly be a factor and it is something we will have to pay attention to. Finger may even block approval for a vaccine protecting women against HPV, the human papilloma virus that can cause cancer of the cervix: He worries [T]his vaccine may be sending an overall message to teenagers that We expect you to be sexually active. Meanwhile, the administration sends anti-choice lobbyists as delegates to international meetings on womens health, and pressures global conferences on AIDS to have Rev. Franklin Graham lecture on faith-based solutions to AIDS. The religious rights effect on Bushs opposition to stem-cell research is notorious, despite the majority of scientistsand U.S. citizens, including evangelicalssupporting research that potentially could have as massive an impact on health as antibiotics did, particularly affecting research on cancer, Parkinsons disease, other neurological disorders, diabetes, and paralysis.
The Dark Ages indeed. With the Crusades thrown in, to boot.
Recently, news coverage has been focused on worldwide marches, boycotts, flag- and building-burnings by Muslims protesting cartoons that allegedly mocked the Prophet Muhammed, run by a Danish newspaper last year. TV pundits tsk-tsk about these obsessed fanatics, these literalist, fundamentalist extremists, while commentators (and U.S. politicians) discover a seemingly newfound pride in Western free speech. OK. Fair enough. Alright.
But meanwhile, little attention is given to a short item running in only a few newspapers on February 11: protests by Callaway Christian Church members in Fulton, Missouri, which resulted in cancellation of the scheduled high-school spring production of Arthur Millers American classic, The Crucible; the Christian protests were actually about the high-school having already staged a (considerably tamed) version of the musical Greaseyes, honest, that depraved orgy, Greasebut their chilling effect was sufficient for Mark Ederle, superintendent of schools, to ban the Miller play, thus saving the school from being further "mired in controversy." The drama teacher, Wendy DeVore, quit after learning that her contract would almost certainly not be renewed. Dr. Ederle said, "That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some. Since The Crucible, set in Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials, was written as a metaphor for McCarthyism, well . . . yes.
Not one news commentator pointed out the parallels, wondered why free speech was such a great idea to brandish abroad but not at home, or compared one set of obsessed, fanatic, literalist, fundamentalist extremists against freedom of expression with the other.
On August 15, 1997, a man named Gil Alexander-Moegerle held a press conference in Colorado Springs. Co-founder with James Dobson of the group Focus on the Family, he had just authored a book, James Dobson's War on America, the first insider expose of a major religious- right organization. Amazingly, Alexander-Moegerle, taking his Christianity seriously for a change, offered a public apology to all women, men of color, Jews, Muslims, homosexual people, and others harmed by actions and attitudes on the part of the Christian Right in general and James Dobson and Focus on the Family in particular. He also revealed how corruptly the Christian right operates behind the scenes, urged an end to political lobbying by such organizations, and issued a warning to the American people. There was virtually no coverage of his press conference (though it is still available in full at www.ralliance.org/Alexander-Moegerle.html). His book was barely reviewed.
Even our media is afraid. Our medias corporate ownership is afraid.
We are all more than a little afraid.
And we are tired.
The great Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote: Those who won our independence believed . . . that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people. . . . that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope, and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government. . . . [Fear] cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears (Concurrence in Whitney v. California, 1927).
But really, should we be surprised that the state of the Union has been corroded this far, or that religion should be employed as the corrosive element?
After all, God is always claimed to be on both sides in every war, and the Bible has been used to defend the Crusades, the Inquisitions, conquest, slavery, lynching, apartheid, indentured servitude, racism, poverty, wife battery, child abuse, homophobia, and other holy terrors.
After all, the decade 1991-2001 saw multiple attacks on U.S. clinics and medical personnel providing contraception and abortion services, leaving eight dead and 33 seriously wounded. Additionally, there have been more than 20 arsons and attempted arsons, 10 bombings and attempted bombings, and multiple clinics in 23 states have received threats of anthrax and chemical attacks. This was not called terrorism. Yet in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, an American Life League ad attacking Planned Parenthood ran in the Washington Times, declaring Abortion is the ultimate terrorism.
After all, news items like the following have now become commonplace:
* The three largest Christian-right organizations call for crusaders to pray that certain U.S. Supreme Court justices whose voting records they dislike will die.
* Televangelist Pat Robertson blames Emmy-Awards-host Ellen Degeneres for the Hurricane Katrina disaster: This is the second time [9/11] God has invoked a disaster before lesbian Ellen Degenerate hosted the Emmy Awards . . . America is waiting for her to apologize for the death and destruction her sexual deviance has brought onto this great nation. Robertson also noted that the Christian Broadcasting Network had compiled a list of 283 nominees, presenters, and invited guests at the Emmys known to be of sexually deviant persuasions.
* Citing religious reasons, some pharmacists now refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency morning after contraception, flatly (and illegally) turning away their female customers--including survivors of sexual assault.
* Air Force Captain Melinda Morton, a Lutheran executive chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, resigns her commission after being fired for whistle-blowing about strident evangelicalism infecting the religious climate at the Academy, where 55 complaints about religious discrimination have been lodged in the past four years. Evangelicalism is the official religion of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Morton warns. (And yes, this is the same Academy infamous for its epidemic of rape and sexual-harassment charges by female cadets--who were ignored or even punished for complaining.)
* Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kansas garner some press attention for their legal battles and school-board struggles over the campaign to teach intelligent design--creationism renamed--as science. But The National Center for Science Education (www.natcensied.org), which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, notes that such battles are increasing in Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and other states.
* Georgia has taken things even furtherbecoming the first state to approve the use of the Bible as a public-school core textbook. Alabama and Missouri are looking into similar measures.
* Faith-based prisons are proliferatingapparently as much to rake in profits as to spread the Gospel to a captive audience. Taxpayers unwittingly finance such prosletyzing prisons, where inmates receive special privileges if they follow all-day, all-week, Christian agendas. Former convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colsons Prison Ministry Fellowship runs partnership prisons with its $46 million annual budget. When he was governor, George W. Bush helped launch the Inner Change Freedom Initiative in Texas; Inner Change now also runs prisons in Kansas and Minnesota. Another Bush governor, Jeb, happily supports three (with more to come) faith-based prisons in Florida. In New Mexico, the state contracts with the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison provider: workbooks for women prisoners emphasize obedience under such headings as Yielding Rights and Proper Submission.
* Meanwhile, the Bush administration initiates or supports:
--providing funds for faith-based social-service programs to practice religious discrimination: hiring only staff who belong to the same church;
--a school voucher program, which would give parents federal tax dollars for tuition to private, religious schools;
--pressuring staff in the White House, Justice Department, and other federal agencies to begin their workday with attendance at voluntary Bible study and prayer sessions.
--approval of a federally funded health plan for Catholics only, that excludes insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortion, sterilization, or artificial insemination;
--instituting a "religious test" for judges, promising to appoint only commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God.
Americans who revere The Constitution of the United States and believe in the strict separation of religion and government are in a state of deepening shock and growing anxiety. They include religiously observant people of every faith, as well as agnostics and atheists. Most Americans fear, sensibly, that the ultra-conservative religious right is gaining historic political power via a glib, well-organized, media-savvy movement with powerful friends in high places.
But average Americans feel helpless to confront them. Most of us havent read the Founding Documents since grade school (if then). We assume that U.S. law has Judeo-Christian roots. (It doesnt.)
Most Americans lack the tools to argue against the religious right.
This book is the tool-kit for arguing.
We dont know that the Constitution contains not one reference to a deity--on purpose.
We dont know that Jeffersons original draft of the Declaration of Independence did not mention endowed by the Creator, but read: We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and unalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty andthe pursuit of happiness . . .
One tool in this kit is the lie-detector. For instance:
* Former Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the Christian Fathers of our country, but actually, the Founders were a hodgepodge of freethinkers, Deists, agnostics, Christians, atheists, and Freemasons--and they were radicals. For example:
Question with boldness even the existence of a god. --Thomas Jefferson
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind. --James Madison
I doubt of Revelation itself. --Benjamin Franklin
My own mind is my church. --Thomas Paine
* Pat Robertson claims that In God We Trust was on our currency and Under God was the U.S. motto from 1776. Are you surprised to learn that neither was the case--until the 1950s?
* George W. Bush adds so help me God to his Presidential Oath of Office. Did he know he was defying The Constitution?
* General William Boykin, Undersecretary of Defense, announces, Were a Christian nation. But the U.S. Treaty of Tripoli--initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams--declares: The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.
* Prayer circles proliferate in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Yet James Madison, father of the Constitution, denounced the presence of chaplains in Congress--and even in the armed forces--as unconstitutional.
* Cardinal Egan is a front-row guest when, for the first time in history, an American president signs a bill outlawing an approved medical procedure (emergency late-term abortion). Most people believe the Roman Catholic Churchs position on abortion is 2000 years old and infallible. Yet the 15th-century church considered abortion moral--and even today the prohibition is not governed by papal infallibility.
* When President George W. Bush established an Office for Faith-Based Initiatives inside the White House, he was in clear violation of the Lemon Test, based on a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which begins: Any statute [or public policy] must have a secular legislative purpose--and then continues with even stronger wording.
* Rev. Jerry Falwell blames the 9/11 attacks on the pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians . . . [and other] groups who have tried to secularize America. Hes a bit late: Alexander Hamilton attacked Jefferson and the other Founders for their successful conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity in the newly formed United States of America.
* Alabama State Supreme Court (deposed) Chief Justice Roy Moore defends his display of the Ten Commandments by claiming that U.S. law is founded on common law, in turn based on Judeo-Christian tradition. But hear this: We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.--Thomas Jefferson.
The principle of separation of church and state was first articulated by Roger Williams, who was banished from Massachusetts for his beliefs and who then founded the settlement of Rhode Island in the 1600s. The Framers of The U.S. Constitution adopted this principle (and were also influenced by The Iroquois Confederacys laws on the rights of all peoples). It has been upheld by every Supreme Court since 1879--until 2002, when the court approved school vouchers.
Now--no hyperbole--it is in genuine danger.
The United States, still a young country with a short memory, has been swept by religious revivals before. For instance, we now take it for granted that churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions are tax-exempt--but it was not always that way, nor was it the intent of the Founders: this policy was the fruit of a religious campaign. So was In God We Trust getting stamped onto our coinage, and the insertion of Under God in our Pledge of Allegiance. Beginning with Lincolns administration, presidents (and also congresses) have repeatedly turned back attempts to pass a Christian Amendment, which would declare Jesus Christ the Ruler among nations. (Why arent we taught this sort of thing in school?) Its been more than 80 years since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee--where the judge wouldnt permit Clarence Darrow to put scientists on the stand as witnesses to vouch for Darwins scientific method. Yet when left up to the states (post-Scopes), ruling after ruling continued to ban the teaching of evolution: by 1930, 70 percent of U.S. school districts did not teach evolution. It was not until 1968, in Epperson v. Arkansas, that the Supreme Court ruled against such bans as having a primary religious purpose, thus violating the Constitutions Establishment Clause. In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Court used the same rationale to strike down a Louisiana law requiring biology teachers who taught evolution to discuss evidence supporting creation science. (Moral: we can recover from these assaults.)
Interestingly, a recent study by evolutionary scientist Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion and Society (Vol. 7, 2005), found that greater degrees of social dysfunction in a society correlated with higher religiosity. Contrary to religionists claims that secularism produces moral decay, secular societiese.g., France, the Scandinavian countries, Japan--have far lower rates of homicide, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and abortion than does the U.S. with our high rate of religionists, a rate unique among industrialized Western nations. Similarly, the more secular blue states in the U.S. have lower rates of divorce, infant mortality, homicide, and violence than the so-called red states where fundamentalism claims to have made its beachhead.
But this religious revival, this time, is different.
Whats different this time is the blatant political mobilization of extreme right religious forces--which in this country are primarily though not exclusively Christian--with the stated theocratic goal sometimes called Dominionism: taking over the government and Christianizing America. (Never mind the anguished embarrassment this causes principled Christian Americans, and never mind that such politicking contradicts Jesuss purported own words: The kingdom of heaven is within you (IB. IV , no. 654, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, 1989).
Whats different this time is that the current, tightly organized, well-financed mobilization has been carefully constructed over 25 years, precisely to such an end.
Whats different this time is that this religious extremism--peopled by scared, loyal, true believers, but led by ambitious, hypocritical, political cynics--has in fact seized power in all three branches of our government, yet wants still more.
But to fully grasp whats different this time, we need to pause for a brief historical aside. Weve all heard religious condemnation of atheists and agnostics (along with liberals and feminists, of course) as Nazi baby-killers for defending a womans right to self determination over her own body; and how anyone who insists on strict separation of church and state is an anti-Christian godless Nazi.
So its crucial to understand--with history, not histrionics--just who is repeating which past, and who is not.
Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party came to power via coalition with and support from Germanys Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Hitler, born into the Roman Catholic Church, was never excommunicated, and he forged political Concordats with the Church. As late as 1941, he told one of his generals, Gerhard Engel, I am now as before a Catholic, and will always remain so. Early in his power-consolidation, o n July 14, 1933, Hitler signed into law Article 1 of the "Decree Concerning the Constitution of the German Protestant Church, merging the German Protestant Church into the Reich, and giving the Reich authority to ordain priests. Article 3 of the Decree assured the new state church that the Reich would finance it, stating: "Should the competent agencies of a State Church refuse to include assessments of the German Protestant Church in their budget, the appropriate State Government will cause the expenditures to be included in the budget upon request of the Reich Cabinet." The constitution of this new, state-sponsored, German church began: "At a time in which our German people are experiencing a great historical new era through the grace of God, [this church] federates into a solemn league all denominations that stem from the Reformation . . . and thereby bears witness to: One Body and One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of All of Us, who is Above All, and Through All, and In All. Article 5 established a head for the new State Church: Reich Bishop. Hitler appointed Ludwig Müller, a Lutheran pastor who retained the position until he committed suicide at the wars end (for more information, see www.commondreams.org).
Women--the canaries in the mine--were hit first. The Kinder, Kirche, Kuche (children, church, kitchen) ideal was promulgated by the State Church, womens groups and publications were shut down, and in the year Hitler became chancellor, feminists and non-Aryans were forced out of jobs in education, political office, and the judiciary. In 1934, based on religious arguments, abortion for Christian Aryan women was banned and made a criminal offense against the state, punishable by hard labor or the death penalty.
Well. But surely its different in the here and now. There are token women, even of color, in the U.S. administration--although the reins of deep power remain clutched in rich, pale, male hands. Besides, we are the country that gave the world Madison Avenue advertising techniques--so totalitarianism here was always bound to have a slick, palatable, happy-face, salable veneer.
But here are some real comparison quotes.
They need no rhetoric. They speak for themselves.
I hope I will live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.--Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith. . . . We need believing people.--Adolf Hitler, April 26, 1933, speech during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat.
God wants me to run for President.--George W. Bush, 2000 campaign statement.
I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work." --Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.
So here we are.
You, me, and this little book--this tool-kit--in your hands.
As a writer and a reader, I trust the power of words that try to tell truths. I believe such words can help save us--our country, and our scarred, embattled planet. Tom Paine despaired that his words were hopelessly misunderstood--yet they inspired a revolution. Lincoln, on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Toms Cabin, said So this is the little lady who started the Civil War.
I want to start no war--of culture or otherwise. Perhaps naively, I still want to end wars. The sole purpose of Fighting Words is to reacquaint my countrymen and countrywomen with our secular roots--and inspire us to honor them.
Happily, there seems to be a growing hunger for histories of early America and for biographies of the Founders who framed the new nations Constitution. Still (regrettably), too few people plow through 400-page books. We live in an age and culture of sound-bites and factoids. So I researched and compiled Fighting Wordswhichbegan life asa short piece in Ms. magazine--in hopes of bridging the two: feeding the hunger, but with the sound-bite brevity of modern communications. A tool for arguing. A source to pull from pocket, purse, or knapsack and brandish, saying No! Wait! Thats not true! Actually, James Madison said . . . A body of evidence. A database for reference when writing letters to newspapers, or debating in school. Or just to delight in feeling vindicated, and in recognizing the Founders not as dusty, pompous, old men in powdered wigs, but as the revolutionaries they actually were.
This book is U.S.-specific--although I confess it would have been lovely to include bits from the luminous writing of Mary Wollstonecraft, or from The Necessity of Atheism by Percy Bysshe Shelley (an essay that got him expelled from Oxford in 1811). I was tempted to add many quotes like Graham Greenes Heresy is only another word for freedom of thought, or Albert Camus Don't wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day. But what does insist on inclusion here is the following paragraph by Alexis de Tocqueville, from his great Democracy in America, in 1835:
"They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point."
Lucky de Tocqueville.
Its time to reclaim our nation and return it to its original patriotic values. These constitute our rightful inheritance, and could serve, as well, as our inspiration. The United States of America was--is--a remarkable experiment, as its Founders realized. To this day, the reason the world wants to come here is not really for the plasma TVs, big cars, fast foods, and commercial hype--especially since these dubious enticements are now being exported around the globe. The real reason the world wants to come here is still to be part of the remarkable experiment.
So its up to us. You and me.
After the first Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government the Founders had chosen. Franklin replied, We have given you a republic--if you can keep it.
Can we keep it?
Excerpted from Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right by Robin Morgan. Copyright © 2006 by Robin Morgan. Published by Nation Books (September 28, 2006).
"Fighting Words is the indispensible Little Red (and White and Blue) Book for reclaiming our country, a "Quotations from Chairman Jefferson"--plus Washington, Madison, Franklin, and many more. Funny, eye-opening, accessible, smart, and best of all really useful for combating the "Christianizing of America."LILY TOMLIN and JANE WAGNER
Here are the real words of our founders, free of the prison of rightwing distortion--and we've never needed them more!GLORIA STEINEM
"A crucial, must-have book!--BARRY LYNN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
* * * ROBIN MORGAN An award-winning writer, political analyst, journalist, and editor, Robin Morgan has published more than 20 books, including six of poetry, four of fiction, and the now-classic anthologies Sisterhood Is Powerful, Sisterhood Is Global, and Sisterhood Is Forever. Her latest books include A Hot January: Poems, Saturdays Child: A Memoir, the best-selling The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, and her new novel The Burning Time, about women fighting the Inquisition. Her work is translated into 13 languages. A founder and leader of contemporary US and global feminism, she lives in New York City, and recently co-founded The Women's Media Center (womensmediacenter.com). You can visit Robin's new website at www.robinmorgan.us.
OK, guess i didn't have to read it since it didn't interest me.. :)
No only point of this article is how they will continue to try to do a dance that Our Founding Fathers would not agree with todays Faithful efforts in holding on to this Republic.
It's amazing how much bunk the writer has crammed into a mere two sentences. The left has gone insane.
Robin, the First Amendment and Article Six are just fine the way they're written.
The way they're commonly (mis)used and (mis)interpreted today, on the other hand, smells like butt.
Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth.
Someone should do their homework.
Somehow I missed the barg alert.
Is there a bigger fool on this planet than Barry Lynn? Maybe George Soros.
Excuse me? I have JFK on tape finishing his oath of office the "so help me God". Was he defying the constitution as well?
This is religious hatred pure and simple, and the ACLU needs to visit these people! (yea, right!)
There is a terrible campaign in this country against Christians, and we better be aware of it and put it down now!
There is no separation of Church and state they way they pretend it is.
Can anyone provide a specific reference and quote from the Constitution???
What makes the Lefts secular religion so utterly lethal is its coercion and attempt to destroy or control all independent sources of power, such as the church, the professions, private businesses, schools, and, of course, the family.
Communism has been the greatest social engineering experiment we have ever seen. It failed disastrously and in doing so it killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and children.
Yet the left marches on, following Stalin's plan to a "T".
And our college's and university's are teaching this "DEATH" by utopia to them.
Well, now that I've corrected this oft-used falacy, I think I'll have an adult beverage and pray that I'm not exposed to more of this shit; my blood pressure can't take it!!!!
All I can say is that I will pray for you, for as they say, ignorance is bliss!!!
Sorry had to fix one thing.
But what really gets me is that in an era of Muslim suicide bombings and the decapitation of journalists, this bunch is so fearful of Christians. It's almost comical. Look out everybody! Here come the Baptists with bombs strapped to their chests.
Thank goodness there are sane people who know there never was, isn't now, and please God, never will be a separation to Church and State in America. We MUST not allow this to happen.
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