Historical Revisionism, Politics And The Religious Right

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” – The Treaty of Tripoli , ratified by the Senate, June 7, 1797

It’s not just startling, but frightening.  The sheer number of people who are ignorant about the precepts, concepts and motivation behind the founding of the United States is mind-boggling.  The lack of understanding about the purpose behind the American Revolutionary War is equally astounding.  The individuals who are insistent that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, on biblical principles ( including just about the entire slate of Republican Presidential candidates) have, as my Grandmother used to say, “rocks in their heads.

They do not understand why we endured those bloody battles, the reasons we decided that we could no longer be part of the Monarchy of United Kingdom or why the Founding Fathers felt it mandatory to dissolve our connection with Britain’s history of repeated violations to the basic human rights of those under it’s rule at the time.

A Little Non-Revisionist History…

The Royal subjects of the colonial-era British Empire were the constant targets of tyranny. The Monarchy was hostile to what was wholesome and necessary for the public good and it is no secret that the residents of the original thirteen colonies were denied protection unless they agreed to relinquish the right of representation.  In fact, it was not uncommon for entire legislative bodies to be relieved of their duties because they were not in agreement with the Crown.  As well, the members of the Royal Armed Forces were held immune to prosecution, no matter how heinous the crimes against the Subjects of the Crown.

Contrary to what many believe, the American Revolution was not about taxes alone and it had nothing at all to do with establishing a Christian nation. As the Declaration so aptly states, it was about being deprived of such things as the benefits of trial by jury, for taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and fundamentally altering the forms government without any input from the people. It was about the Crown suspending its own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate in all cases. It was about the ability of the Monarchy to wage war on it’s own citizens and, without reservation, to plunder our seas, ravage our coasts, burn our towns, and destroy the lives of our ancestors without any judicial or legislative regulation.

The list of charges levied toward the Monarchy, and specifically King George III, in the body of the Declaration are numerous and largely unknown by our own citizenry.  The crimes against humanity that were committed by the Crown were egregious and many. But instead of recognizing the Declaration of Independence as an important document stating our insistence to individual freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it has been relegated by the religious right as a weapon to promote their desire to bring the United States back to a form of government that is almost identical to the one we originally fought so hard to be free of.

The sole purpose of the Declaration was to “dissolve the political bands,” not to set up a religious nation. Its authority is based on the idea that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” which is contrary to the biblical concept of the Theocracy that the Religious Right seek to impose upon us.

Fundamentalist Christians work hard to convince us that the founding fathers intended to establish this country on “biblical principles.” History does not support this. Many of the men who signed the Declaration were not bible-believing Christians. This is reflected in the eventual adoption and ratification of the document that actually governs us, the US Constitution, which is a secular document that very purposely begins with “We the people” and does not contain any mention of God or Christianity. It should also be noted that the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist who was vehemently opposed to orthodox Christianity and all things “supernatural.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the  whole American people which declared that their legislature  should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State”  – Thomas Jefferson

The famous “wall of separation” quote that Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 also includes the statement that, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme Court and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion.

A Word About Patriotism…

The continued efforts of many secularists to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance are very patriotic and true to the principles that our country was founded upon.  Those words did not appear until 1954, under McCarthyism, which was not one our finest hours. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was absent from paper currency before 1956. Our original motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson was “E Pluribus Unum” (Of Many, One) and was meant to celebrate plurality, not theocracy.

The United States of America is not one nation under God, but one nation under a Constitution. The fact that a majority of our citizens are Christian does not make us a Christian nation. On constitutional matters, there is no “majority rule.” The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religious belief (or the lack of religious belief) and the wisest policy is the Constitutional one – neutrality.

The religious right are being decidedly unpatriotic in their quest to drive us back toward the Theocracy that our revolutionary soldiers spilled gallons of blood to be freed from.  They are behaving like petulant, spoiled children and are blinded by their own ignorance. They seem to have forgotten that the “due process” clause in the Fourteenth Amendment assures no public official may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution.  At every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.

Nobody is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere and the state has almost no say about private religious beliefs and practices.

The Ten Commandments Are Un-American…

In a prime example of legislative ignorance, the State of Georgia recently passed HB 941, which amended Article 3, Chapter 13 of Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia to adopt an official display called “The Foundations Of Law And Government.” This amendment relates to the Division of Archives and History and includes the authorization to display the Ten Commandments as a historical document and to further the revisionist claims that the Decalogue is part of the foundations of United States law and government.

The problem with this amendment, which is being challenged by American Atheists, Inc., is that the Ten Commandments are neither a historical document, nor a foundation of American law and government.  In fact, the Decalogue was not even profoundly influential in the formation of western legal thought or our country, for that matter. They are religious edicts having nothing to do with law or ethical behavior. Only three (homicide, theft, and perjury) are relevant to current United States law, and have existed in cultures long before the fictional character of Moses was invented.

It’s ironic that if we honored the commandment against “coveting” during our current recession that it would cause our entire economy to completely collapse.

Truth, Justice And The American Way…

Our laws are based on the humanist principle of “justice for all.” The religious fanatics are ignoring history, law and fairness in their efforts to turn America into the Christian nation that it never was.  They would like nothing more than to deny the constitutional freedoms that are guaranteed to all Americans, including non-Christian religious minorities and unbelievers. What the religious right refuse to acknowledge is that history shows only harm coming from the uniting church and state.

The actions of the religious right are mirroring the tyranny of the eighteenth century British Monarchy, which only prove that ignorance of history results in it’s repetition. I find it ironic that the United States and the United Kingdom are slowly swapping ideologies. I know of many non-religious ex-patriots who have fled the United States due to being persecuted by the religious right for sanctuary in the United Kingdom. We are becoming more and more religious while the UK is becoming more and more secular humanist.

It cannot be stated emphatically enough or often enough that the United States of America has never been a Christian nation, nor was it founded on Christian or Biblical principles. It would do good for all of us to remember that the privileges we enjoy as citizens do not come from religion or any deity, but are guarantees that are set forth in our secular constitution.

Turning The Tides…

Because there are so many who have been fooled into thinking that the United States is a Christian Nation, founded on Biblical principles, we are moving in the wrong direction. The sheeple are being indoctrinated that only Christian citizens are “True Americans,” and that all others (especially Atheists) are systematically destroying our Nation.  They have forgotten that a society will be ultimately judged on how it cares for its weakest members.  The milk of human kindness is going sour as the religious right continue their bent on a class war that relegates non-Christians as unworthy, unwashed and undeserving of anything but eternal torture in the fiery pits of their manufactured hell.  This, in addition to these faux-patriots demanding that anyone who is not Christian to leave the country.

There is no room in our government for the arrogance of religious belief. It clouds judgment, divides our citizenry, promotes hatred, thwarts scientific discovery, denigrate the human condition, is an affront to the collective of human intelligence and spawns bigotry, discrimination and inhumanity.  When religion and government become one, the results are poisonous.  Religious belief is not conducive of a free society where everyone is equal under the eyes of the law, and it was this truth that prompted the American Revolution (conspiracy theories, notwithstanding).

If the tides are not turned back toward the original intentions of our Founding Fathers with respect to a completely secular government, we stand the chance of becoming victims of the same fate as nearly every other country that has fallen under Theocratic rule by religious zealots.  If you don’t know what that fate is, you are truly living your life inside a bubble of delusion.

 

 

  11 comments for “Historical Revisionism, Politics And The Religious Right

  1. October 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I love this essay, Al. One of your best yet. I would love for my Catholic Bullet Republican in-laws to read this but I haven’t yet found a way to address that elephant.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Thank you, Kristin. I hope the right time presents itself for you .

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM
    October 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Separation of church and state has been an issue for centuries. In the 11th Century the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope argued and fought about which had supreme authority, the secular ruler or the religious ruler. After the Protestant Reformation, the question became more difficult because there wasn’t a single religious authority any more. This led to two centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants, culminating in the big finale of the Thirty Years War. It became more and more obvious to people that mixing religion and the state was not a good idea.

    This was the mindset of the first English settlers in the Americas. The English Civil War, Cromwell’s tyranny, and the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 left a deep impression on English colonists. They created a movement called Deism. The Deists’ beliefs were that though they believed, often strongly, in god, they distrusted religions as imperfect human attempts to define and understand god. They looked on the Catholic Church as a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy which craved power and Earthly wealth. They were committed Protestants who believed that Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church was absolutely necessary but they also saw the resulting Church of England, the Anglicans, as having become just as corrupt as the Catholics. The lesson they drew from the Anglican experience was that religion mixed with government inevitably led to the defilement of both. This is a source of confusion for many modern American religious extremists who can’t seem to bridge the understanding that the American Founding Fathers being devoted to god (except for some atheists like Ben Franklin) and yet distrusting religion. American Christian fundamentalists love to quote religious citations from the Founding Fathers without knowing the context of these remarks.

    The American Constitution was framed with a strict separation between state and religion. It is not anti-religious but it says that while religion has a place in society, that place cannot be connected with the government. Anyone can practice any religion or lack thereof, but they cannot force anyone else to practice that religion and the government cannot endorse or support any particular religion.

    American religious zealots have a convoluted logical that says they should be able to express their religion in any way they want, including putting symbols on government property, disregarding the Constitution and local laws. If they can’t impose their religious views on everyone else then their religious rights are being abridged. Since their religion says they must proselytize, any attempt to stop them from doing so, all laws and the Constitution be damned, is against their rights.

    The point about separation of church and state that seems to be missing is that it’s not about majorities, it’s about all of society. Clearly, even if we are a minority, there are those of us who do not want religion imposed on us and especially don’t want government to aid in the imposition. The zealots don’t get it and, what’s worse, don’t want to get it.

    • Sandman
      October 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

      “This led to two centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants, culminating in the big finale of the Thirty Years War.”

      Maybe in Europe but in Britain the wars of relgion rumbled on for much longer. In England after the Civil War we had the Covenanter/Blue Bonnet Wars and Reaver conflicts.

      The last religiously fuelled Catholic vs Protestant battle was in 1746 when the Highland Catholic Jacobite forces fought the Protestant English and Southern Scots at Culloden Moor.

      The UKs history is one of centuries of religious warfare, which is probably why we are now a feircely secular nation that regards the monarchy as a buscuit tin tourist attraction.

      Its also why we Brits look on US fundy Iran style godbothering madness with slackjawed amazement.

      Beware the dawn of the Republic of Gilead my US chums….its just over the horizon the way things are going.

  3. Doug Indeap
    October 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Good points well put.

    Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. They later buttressed this separation with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    While some draw meaning from the reference to “Nature’s God” and “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is baseless. Apart from the fact that these references could mean any number of things (some at odds with the Christian idea of God), there simply is no “legal” connection or effect between the two documents. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence, nor did it found a government. The colonists issued the Declaration not to effect their independence, but rather to explain and justify the move to independence that was already well underway. Nothing in the Constitution depends on anything said in the Declaration. Nor does anything said in the Declaration purport to limit or define the government later formed by the free people of the former colonies; nor could it even if it purported to do so. Once independent, the people of the former colonies could choose whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take it as inspiration and guidance if, and to the extent, they chose–or they could not. They could have formed a theocracy if they wished–or, as they ultimately chose, a secular government founded on the power of the people (not a deity).

  4. 'Tis Himself, OM
    October 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Doug Indeap #3

    While some draw meaning from the reference to “Nature’s God” and “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is baseless.

    The Declaration of Independence was a political statement, basically a piece of propaganda. The Constitution is a legal document establishing a government.

    • Doug Indeap
      October 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      I agree. To that difference, I add the further observation mentioned in my comment that the Declaration could not, in any event, serve to define, limit, etc., the government established by the Constitution. The idea is akin to the principle (or, more accurately, concession to reality) that one legislature cannot limit the actions of a future legislature.

  5. had3
    October 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Just a small point of clarification: the majority can tyranize the minority, so long as it’s a super-majority. If enough people organized to amend the constitution to allow for religious testing, presumably xianity could become a requirement to hold office.

  6. fastlane
    October 21, 2011 at 11:08 am

    As well, the members of the Royal Armed Forces were held immune to prosecution, no matter how heinous the crimes against the Subjects of the Crown.

    Compare that to the modern era of police and prosecutorial immunity.

    The more things change….

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