Friday, April 1, 2011

Myth & Truth about America

The following is a letter to the editor that I wrote in response to a comment by "HardTruth2011"

Dear “HardTruth2011,”

You state,
“The heritage and the patriotic foundation of this country is based upon a strong belief in God, prayer in schools and in every public gathering, and using the Bible as the standard textbook in all public schools, colleges, and universities.”

I can think of no better rejoinder to your statement than the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The USA was the world’s first Secular State, since it had no established State Religion.

Your views about the founding of this nation are non-historical and highly romanticized, at best. Here are a few quotes from famous Americans regarding religion:

Thomas Jefferson:

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."

"Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ...Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."

John Adams:

"As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?"
..........To F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

Benjamin Franklin:

"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England."

"As to Jesus of Nazareth...I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity."

James Madison:

"Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has 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."
..........."A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785

Thomas Paine:

"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."

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

Abraham Lincoln:

"The bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma."

"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them."

As for your theological views, suffice it to say that, a considerable number of theologians and various denominations would disagree strongly with your exegesis of scripture. However, that is the beauty of the First Amendment it protects both your right to “free exercise” of religion and everyone else’s.

The spiritual truth of authentic religion is practical love of God, neighbor and self. This is much more difficult to accomplish than forcing ideas on others involuntarily. That is why we had Good Friday, the Crusades, and the Inquisition, burning at the stake, State religions, heresy trials, pillories, and sadly too few saints.


Steven said...

Interesting revelations from men who I never imagined would be so vocal about such views. Thanks for sharing.

Tal said...

Great quotes. You even found a few I had not seen before.

The fact remains that we are not now nor have ever been a "Christian nation."

That God is mentioned no where in the Constitution--an amazing result for a document 230 years old--is significant, especially in light of the First Amendment's establishment clause. (Even more of an achievement when one considers that the European Union a few years ago couldn't approve a constitution because it didn't sufficiently laud the formative role of Christianity.)

Our Founders derived the best solution to the centuries of religious wars that had wracked the old world: a secular representative republic, with no creeds; just freedom of thought and conscience. As the opening line of the Constitution states, this is a nation not of kings, priests or popes, but "We the People"; as Lincoln eloquently stated in his Gettysburg address, "government of the people, by the people, for the people [...]."

Importantly (if not definitively on the question of whether we're a "Christian nation"), a mere 8 years after the ratification of the Constitution, in 1797, the U.S. Senate expressly stated in the Treaty of Tripoli that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion [...]."

It is very clear that our Founders did not view our unique experiment as a Christian one. I don't think that they would have disagreed that Christian values and morals informed the experiment (both directly and in reaction against them). But that is very different from the proposition that we're "Christian."

We are a country without creed. As a result, we have many, all competing in the market of ideas. It also means that our religions are more accountable to the people, as they cannot rely on the state for protection. (Is it any surprise that the Catholic hierarchy's decades long scheme to conceal child abuse was discovered here first?)

We should be proud of what our Founders instituted and the great diversity and security it has provided. It is an ignorant and dangerous citizen who fails to recognize both the unique importance and underlying fragility of what our republican institutions depend upon.

matt said...

yes, the united states certainly was not conceived of as a christian nation. the founding fathers were mostly deists, firmly part of the age of enlightenment-- neither of which the catholic church could not abide. the church still teaches priests-in-training the errors of both. in the seminary, deism was a dirty word... as was the enlightenment. a christain nation from its inception? not as far as the catholic church is concerned!

matt said...

sorry, I meant to write "neither of which the catholic church 'could' abide."

jamez said...

Even if we did proclaim Christianity as a state religian. Scriptures say that you cannot worship both God and Mammon. This country, whatever we would proclaim, has clearly chosen the path of Mammon...

Joe said...

Yet politicians and sadly, "religious people," perpetuate this myth in order to promote bigotry against LGBT people, Muslims, etc.

Lynn said...

People have this idea of our nation being founded on religious principles because they are taught that the pilgrims came here in search of religious freedom. And then our children are taught next to nothing about the 150 years from Plymouth Rock to Independence Hall.
The pilgrims came here to create a society only for pilgrims. Non-Pilgrims were hounded to the wilderness, where they had to create their own colonies (see the history of Rhode Island). The British exploited the religious mistrust between the colonies to keep them from banding together.
Only when you know the history contained in those 150 years, can you understand the concept of Freedom of Religion.