The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep religion out of government,” ran an advertisement in The New York Times on July 4, 2013 (see page A7 of the paper edition), inviting Americans to “Celebrate our Godless Constitution.” Now, I’ll say a little more about the American Constitution in a moment, but before I do, I’d like to comment on the advertisement’s quotations from the writings of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and the first four Presidents of the United States, in support of their cause.
In the words of the FFRF press release accompanying the New York Times advertisement: “The ads quote U.S. Founders and Framers on their strong views against religion in government, and often critical views on religion in general. The ad features two revolutionaries and Deists, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, and the first four presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation states in its press release that its motivation in placing the advertisement was to refute what it describes was “the myth that the United States was founded on God and Christianity.” It accuses the craft store chain Holly Lobby of propagating this myth in a series of July 4 ads sponsored annually by the chain since 2008. A copy of the latest Holly Lobby ad can be seen here.
Now, it is fair to say that at least one of the Founding Fathers (Thomas Paine) was vocally opposed to organized religion. It is also a matter of historical fact that the Fathers ardently believed that there should be no established Church, and that no church should be financially supported or assisted by the State. But it is also true to say that not one of the Founding Fathers was an agnostic or atheist. Indeed, all of them stoutly maintained that people’s rights are derived from God. For the Founding Fathers, the only firm basis of a country’s political liberties was “a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God,” as President Thomas Jefferson put it in his 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia (Query 18). What’s more, the God that Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers believed in was not an impersonal abstraction, but a just God, Who expects human beings to be both fair and charitable in their dealings with one another, and Who punishes acts of injustice. As for personal morality, President Thomas Jefferson was the only one of the Founding Fathers to explicitly declare that even a person with “a belief that there is no God” could still find “incitements to virtue,” although he went on to add that belief in God who approves of good deeds was “a vast additional incitement” to act virtuously.
When I came across the Freedom From Religion Foundation advertisement, my curiosity was piqued, and I decided to check out its claims. In this post, I intend to examine each of the quotes in the FFRF advertisement, and see how they stack up against the facts. I’ll also have something to say about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s claim that the American Constitution is godless.
For the benefit of readers, I should mention that my own interest in American history was awakened at the age of eight, when I was living in the town of Northam, Western Australia. A kind gentleman who was also a Knight of the Southern Cross gave me a copy of a book titled, Larger than the sky: a story of James Cardinal Gibbons by Covelle Newcomb (Longmans, Green and Co., 1948). From then on, I was hooked by the drama of American history. I’ll be saying more about Cardinal Gibbons below, by the way.
Here is an executive summary of what I found, for those readers who don’t like long posts.
1. Thomas Paine
2. Benjamin Franklin
3. George Washington
4. John Adams
5. Thomas Jefferson
6. James Madison
Is America a Christian country?
1. Thomas Paine
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote reads as follows:
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the bible is filled, it would seem more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize…
The quote is from The Age of Reason. The above extract is taken from Part First, Section 4 of the book. I find it rather amusing that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a fit of political correctness, omitted the word “mankind” from the end of the last clause. Paine goes on to add: “and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
But Paine was also an Intelligent Design fan, who believed that students studying science should be taught about how the cosmos points to a Creator. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at what he said in his essay, The Existence of God, which was originally a speech Paine gave at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris, and which was probably read at their first public meeting, on January 16, 1797. The Theophilanthropists (“Friends of God and Man”) were a Deistic sect, formed in France during the latter part of the French Revolution. An article in The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the origins of the Theophilanthropists:
The legal substitution of the Constitutional Church, the worship of reason, and the cult of the Supreme Being in place of the Catholic Religion had practically resulted in atheism and immorality. With a view to offsetting those results, some disciples of Rousseau and Robespierre resorted to a new religion, wherein Rousseau’s deism and Robespierre’s civic virtue (regne de la vertu) would be combined.
The Theophilanthropists shared two basic beliefs: they believed in God and in a hereafter. Thomas Paine believed as much, for he wrote: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” (The Age of Reason, Part First, Section 1).
Now at last we are in a position to appreciate the significance of Paine’s criticisms of the way in which the natural sciences are taught in the schools. He was speaking to a French audience, and the target of his criticisms would have been the secular science curriculum that was adopted in revolutionary France. Paine objected to this curriculum, on the grounds that teaching scientific principles without any mention of their Divine Author would dampen students’ intellectual curiosity and foster shallow thinking, which would inevitably lead to atheism:
It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles: he can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the author.
When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well executed statue, or an highly finished painting, where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation, we stop short, and do not think of GOD? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated the study of them from the ‘Being’ who is the author of them…
The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools, in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only, has been that of generating in the pupils a species of Atheism. Instead of looking through the works of creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of his existence… (Emphases mine – VJT.)
So here we have Thomas Paine, a leading figure in the history of skeptical thought and a fierce critic of religion, expressly advocating the idea of bringing God back into the French science curriculum!
I can’t imagine why the Freedom From Religion Foundation would consider someone like Thomas Paine as their political ally.
2. Benjamin Franklin
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote from Benjamin Franklin reads as follows:
When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its Professors are obliged to call for the help of the Civil Power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
The quote is taken from Franklin’s letter to Richard Price, dated October 9, 1780. It illustrates Franklin’s belief that the Church should not rely on the State for financial support. For his part, Franklin was a Deist, who felt that organized religion was necessary to keep men good to their fellow men, but he rarely attended religious services himself. (Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, edited by J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1986, p. 65.)
But Franklin also believed that the only good government was a God-fearing government, and that a government that failed to acknowledge its dependence on God was doomed to failure. As Secretary of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin also passed a motion calling for the introduction the practice of daily common prayer, at a critical juncture when deliberations were getting bogged down:
… In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. – Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. … And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: … I therefore beg leave to move – that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.
The motion met with resistance and was never brought to a vote; but it is a touching testament to Franklin’s deep personal faith in God. The fact that Franklin called for the government to hold daily prayers, which would be officiated by members of the clergy, gives the lie to the claim by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the Founding Fathers believed that Church and State be kept completely separate from one another. What they actually believed was that there should be no legally established Church, and that churches should not be financially supported by the State.
3. George Washington, first President of the United States
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote from President George Washington reads as follows:
“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony & irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause…”
The quote is taken from Washington’s letter to Sir Edward Newenham, dated June 22, 1792. The paragraph from which the quote is taken reads as follows:
I regret exceedingly that the disputes between the protestants and Roman Catholics should be carried to the serious alarming height mentioned in your letters. Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause; and I was not without hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy of the present age would have put an effectual stop to contentions of this kind.
As far as I can see, the letter merely establishes that President George Washington opposed religious bigotry, not that he opposed religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation advertisement goes on to say that “Our first US President refused to take Communion, kneel in prayer in churches (or at Valley Forge), have a priest at his deathbed or take last rites.” The statement, as it stands, conveys the misleading impression that Washington’s behavior was motivated by either indifference to or an antipathy towards religion. This is simply not the case.
As Michael and Jana Novak point out in their book, Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty and the Father of Our Country (Basic Books, 2007, p. 97), it was not at all uncommon in those days for churchgoers to pass on participating in communion. It should be added that Washington attended church services about once a month the period 1760-1773, while he was at Mount Vernon (Ford, Paul Leicester. The True George Washington, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1897, p. 78), even though doing so required him to ride several miles (Novak & Novak, p. 97). During his tours of the nation in his two terms as President, he attended religious services more frequently, sometimes as often as three times a day (Novak & Novak, p. 39).
Washington’s religious practices: the testimony of his adopted daughter
Concerning the religious practices of George Washington, we have the eyewitness testimony of Eleanor Parke Lewis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter and George Washington’s adopted daughter. I’d like to quote a few brief excerpts from her letter on the subject, dated 26 February 1833 (emphases are mine):
General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria…
He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother…
…I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, “that they may be seen of men.” He communed with his God in secret.
My mother resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. When my aunt, Miss Custis died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event, he knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge Washington’s mother and other witnesses…
…She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity. Is it necessary that any one should certify, “General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?” As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, “Deeds, not Words”; and, “For God and my Country.”
(The full text of the letter can be found in The Writings of George Washington, by Jared Sparks, published by American Stationers’ Company, Boston, 1837. Volume 12, page 406, letter of Eleanor Parke Lewis, 26 February, 1833.)
From the foregoing, we see that nothing whatsoever can be inferred from the fact that George Washington did not kneel during religious services, as it was then the custom to stand during the devotional parts of the service. We also see that Washington did kneel in prayer on at least one occasion, even though the account of his kneeling at Valley Forge is mythical.
The piety and Christianity of George Washington
George Washington was, privately, a pious man. Historian Peter Lillback, Ph. D., the president of Westminster Theological Seminary, published a book titled, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (Providence Forum, 2006), in which he summarized the evidence for Washington’s religiosity, using documents that were previously unavailable to historians. Here’s what he wrote in an online article summarizing his findings, titled, Why Have Scholars Underplayed George Washington’s Faith? (February 10, 2007):
It has simply been too easy for all parties in this debate to rely on secondary sources. Ultimately, Washington’s own words and his own actions in his own context establish the truth about his own faith…
Within this vast collection of Washington’s own words and writings, we now have a remarkable ability to uncover what earlier scholars were unable to access. And when we let Washington’s own words and deeds speak for his faith we get quite a different perspective than that of most recent modern historians. Washington referred to himself frequently using the words “ardent”, “fervent”, “pious”, and “devout”. There are over one hundred different prayers composed and written by Washington in his own hand, with his own words, in his writings. He described himself as one of the deepest men of faith of his day when he confessed to a clergyman, “No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.”
Rather than avoid the word “God,” on the very first national Thanksgiving under the U.S. Constitution, he said, “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” Although he never once used the word “Deist” in his voluminous writings, he often mentioned religion, Christianity, and the Gospel. He spoke of Christ as “the divine Author of our blessed religion.” He encouraged missionaries who were seeking to “Christianize” the “aboriginals.” He took an oath in a private letter, “on my honor and the faith of a Christian.” He wrote of “the blessed religion revealed in the Word of God.” He encouraged seekers to learn “the religion of Jesus Christ.” He even said to his soldiers, “To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.” Not bad for a “lukewarm” Episcopalian!
Historians ought no longer be permitted to do the legerdemain of turning Washington into a Deist even if they found it necessary and acceptable to do so in the past. Simply put, it is time to let the words and writings of Washington’s faith speak for themselves.
Seven telling pieces of evidence that George Washington was a Christian
Ever since the publication of a book by Paul F. Boller, Jr. entitled George Washington and Religion (Southern Methodist University Press, 1963), it has become fashionable for scholars to claim that Washington was not a Christian but a Deist. However, Kerby Anderson, president of Probe Ministries International, adduces no less than seven telling pieces of evidence that George Washington was a Christian in his article, George Washington and Religion:
What are some of the reasons to believe Washington was a Christian? First, he religiously observed the Sabbath as a day of rest and frequently attended church services on that day. Second, many report that Washington reserved time for private prayer. Third, Washington saved many of the dozens of sermons sent to him by clergymen, and read some of them aloud to his wife.
Fourth, Washington hung paintings of the Virgin Mary and St. John in places of honor in his dining room in Mount Vernon. Fifth, the chaplains who served under him during the long years of the Revolutionary War believed Washington was a Christian. Sixth, Washington (unlike Thomas Jefferson) was never accused by the press or his opponents of not being a Christian.
It is also worth noting that, unlike Jefferson, Washington agreed to be a godparent for at least eight children. This was far from a casual commitment since it required the godparents to agree to help insure that a child was raised in the Christian faith. Washington not only agreed to be a godparent, but presented his godsons and goddaughters with Bibles and prayer books.
George Washington was not a Deist who believed in a “watchmaker God.” He was a Christian and demonstrated that Christian character throughout his life.
The smoking gun that proves Washington was a Christian, who believed Jesus was God
In a letter from George Washington to the Governors of the States (June 8, 1783), George Washington expressed his desire that the governors and the citizens of the states over which they preside would seek to acquire the attributes and characteristics of Jesus Christ, “the Divine Author of our blessed religion.” I shall quote from the final three paragraphs:
It remains, then, to be my final and only request, that your Excellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature at their next meeting, and that they may be considered as the legacy of one, who has ardently wished, on all occasions, to be useful to his country, and who, even in the shade of retirement, will not fail to implore the Divine benediction upon it.
I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, Sir, your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant.
Since Washington lists humility as one of the characteristics of “the Divine Author of our blessed religion,” he cannot simply be referring to the God worshiped by the Deists. The only kind of God Who could be said to possess “humility” is One Who humbled Himself to be born as a human being. The above passage thus shows that Washington acknowledged the Divinity of Christ: he was a Trinitarian Christian.
Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
Far from being a rigid absolutist regarding the separation of Church and State, President George Washington actually instituted a national day of prayer, in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1789 – an event which the Freedom From Religion Foundation omits to mention in its advertisement:
[New York, 3 October 1789]
By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us –and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Washington considered religion politically indispensable
In his Farewell Address of 1796, President George Washington made it clear that he not only regarded religion as indispensable to a well-governed society, but that he also believed that public morality could not be maintained without religion:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Why, I wonder, does the Freedom From Religion Foundation consider a man who professed his faith in the Divinity of Christ, who regarded atheists as stupid, who declared in his farewell address that no-one who sought to undermine religion could be regarded as a patriot, who was skeptical that public morality could survive without religion, and who instituted the national day of prayer that Americans know as Thanksgiving, as a political ally of theirs? Beats me.
4. John Adams, second President of the United States
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote from President John Adams reads as follows:
“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
– Signed Treaty of Tripoli, 1797
The FFRF advertisement goes on to claim (incorrectly, as we’ll see below) that Adams “did not believe in miracles or prophecies.”
The quote is substantially accurate. Here’s the relevant passage from Article XI of the Treaty:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, – and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (Charles I. Bevans, ed. Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949. Vol. 11: Philippines-United Arab Republic. Washington D.C.: Department of State Publications, 1974, p. 1072).
John Adams regarded God as the ultimate foundation of human rights
In his 1765 work, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, Adams insisted that human rights are God-given and cannot be repealed by human laws. The people, for Adams, have “an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right” to know what their rulers are getting up to:
The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form a union and exert their strength; ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known by the great to be the temper of mankind; and they have accordingly labored, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.…
Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees, of the people; and if the cause, the interest, and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute other and better agents, attorneys and trustees.
Adams believed that American independence was built upon the foundations of Christianity
An excerpt from one of John Adams’ private letters to Thomas Jefferson makes it abundantly clear that he believed American independence was built upon the foundations of Christianity, when he points out that this was the one thing that united all of the soldiers fighting for independence:
Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and “Protestans qui ne croyent rien [“Protestants who believe nothing”].” Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty…
The general Principles, on which the Fathers Atchieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their Address, or by me in my Answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.
Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.
(Source: John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28th, 1813, from Quincy. The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, edited by Lester J. Cappon, 1988, the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, pp. 338-340.)
John Adams was a Christian who believed in miracles, not a Deist
John Adams was no Deist. In 1796, John Adams denounced Thomas Paine’s criticisms of Christianity in his Deist work, The Age of Reason, saying, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.” (The Works of John Adams (1854), vol III, p 421, diary entry for July 26, 1796.)
American history researcher Gregg L. Frazer (2004) notes that, while Adams shared many perspectives with deists, “Adams clearly was not a deist. Deism rejected any and all supernatural activity and intervention by God; consequently, deists did not believe in miracles or God’s providence…. Adams, however, did believe in miracles, providence, and, to a certain extent, the Bible as revelation.” (The Political Theology of the American Founding (PhD dissertation), Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California, 2004, p. 46.)
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that some people have questioned the accuracy of Dr. Frazer’s work. In order to remove all doubt that John Adams believed in miracles, here’s his diary entry for March 2, 1756:
Began this afternoon my third quarter. The great and Almighty author of nature, who at first established those rules which regulate the world, can as easily suspend those laws whenever his providence sees sufficient reason for such suspension. This can be no objection, then, to the miracles of Jesus Christ. Although some very thoughtful and contemplative men among the heathen attained a strong persuasion of the great principles of religion, yet the far greater number, having little time for speculation, gradually sunk into the grossest opinions and the grossest practices. These, therefore, could not be made to embrace the true religion till their attention was roused by some astonishing and miraculous appearances. The reasoning of philosophers, having nothing surprising in them, could not overcome the force of prejudice, custom, passion, and bigotry. But when wise and virtuous men commissioned from heaven, by miracles awakened men’s attention to their reasonings, the force of truth made its way with ease to their minds.
Quotations adduced by atheists which purport to show that President John Adams was skeptical of miracles, show nothing of the sort. What they show is that John Adams rejected the miracles claimed by the Catholic Church, which he regarded as fraudulent: they were the “fictitious miracles” of “priests and kings.”
(End of Update.)
The Website www.adherents.com has an informative article titled, The Religious Affiliation of Second U.S. President John Adams, which states, among other things:
President John Adams was a devout Unitarian, which was a non-trinitarian Protestant Christian denomination during the Colonial era…
Adams was raised a Congregationalist, but ultimately rejected many fundamental doctrines of conventional Christianity, such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, becoming a Unitarian. In his youth, Adams’ father urged him to become a minister, but Adams refused, considering the practice of law to be a more noble calling. Although he once referred to himself as a “church going animal,” Adams’ view of religion overall was rather ambivalent: He recognized the abuses, large and small, that religious belief lends itself to, but he also believed that religion could be a force for good in individual lives and in society at large. His extensive reading (especially in the classics), led him to believe that this view applied not only to Christianity, but to all religions.
Adams was aware of (and wary of) the risks, such as persecution of minorities and the temptation to wage holy wars, that an established religion poses. Nonetheless, he believed that religion, by uniting and morally guiding the people, had a role in public life.
President Adams’ proclamation of a national day of prayer and fasting
On March 23, 1798, President John Adams also publicly proclaimed that May 9, 1798 should be designated a national Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer. Here is an extract from the proclamation:
As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness cannot exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation by the unfriendly disposition, conduct, and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredation on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow-citizens while engaged in their lawful business on the seas–under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.
I have therefore thought fit to recommend, and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; that it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it…
Misquotation of President John Adams by Richard Dawkins: An example of how secular humanists misappropriate the Founding Fathers
The Chistian apologist Richard Deem, over at his Website, Evidence for God from Science: Christian Apologetics, has a review of Professor Richard Dawkins’ best-selling book, The God Delusion. In his review of the second chapter, entitled, Debunking Dawkins: The God Delusion – Chapter 2: The God Hypothesis, Deem shows how Dawkins completely mis-represents President John Adams, as someone who was opposed to religion:
Dawkins goes on to quote several founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, who made statement against the religion of their time. John Adams is quoted as saying, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” However here is the complete quote in an April 19, 1817, letter to Thomas Jefferson:
“Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.” (Letter to Thomas Jefferson, April 19, 1817.)
In quoting John Adams out-of-context, Dawkins has made it seem that Adams said exactly opposite of what he really intended. No wonder he left out the part where Adams said the world would be “hell” “without religion.” Adams directly refuted Dawkins’ major premise of the book – that religion is the great evil in the world – and affirmed the opposite – that religion keeps the world from becoming completely evil. In fact, John Adams said some things about Christianity that Dawkins probably won’t be quoting any time soon such as, “The Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and the heart.” (Letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, December 27, 1816.)
5. Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote from President Thomas Jefferson reads as follows:
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
Jefferson encouraged bold and fearless inquiry into the claims of religion
President Jefferson did indeed say that, in a 1787 letter to his nephew, Peter Carr. In the same letter, he went on to write:
Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision.
In the foregoing passage, Jefferson maintained that an atheist could still live virtuously, but also freely acknowledged that belief in a just God and an afterlife were additional incitements to virtue.
Jefferson held that a free society is founded on a popular belief in God-given liberties
In his 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia, when discussing the moral corruption caused by the institution of slavery, Jefferson maintained that no nation could remain secure in its liberties without “a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God,” which implies that he would have regarded a nation of atheists as politically non-viable, in the long term:
“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other… And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae [love of country – VJT] of the other… Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events; that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.” (Query 18.
Thomas Jefferson, Intelligent Design advocate
President Jefferson also argued on rational grounds that the universe and its numerous life-forms could only be the product of an Intelligent Agent, in his letter to John Adams, from Monticello, dated April 11, 1823:
I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organized as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms.
We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in its course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro’ all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis. Some early Christians indeed have believed in the coeternal pre-existence of both the Creator and the world, without changing their relation of cause and effect.
Once again, I have to ask the Freedom From Religion Foundation why it considers a President who held that the existence of God could be rationally proved, and that no society could long remain free unless its people believed that their liberties derived from God, as a political ally.
6. James Madison, fourth President of the United States
The Freedom From Religion Foundation quote reads as follows:
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.
The quote is taken from the seventh numbered paragraph of Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments of 1785, which was addressed to “the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The attentive reader will note that Madison is not criticizing Christianity in the above passage; rather, what he is attacking is “the legal establishment of Christianity” – which is quite a different thing.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation shoots itself in the foot
I find it particularly ironic that in the very same document quoted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in an attempt to support that Christianity leads to superstition and bigotry, James Madison clearly stated that his opposition to the proposed Virginia “Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion” was based largely on his belief that the Bill would harm Christianity:
“The policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be, that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it, with the number still remaining under the dominion of false religions, and how small is the former! Does the policy of the bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No: it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of Revelation from coming into the region of it: countenances, by example, the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them.”
[Madison, James, A Memorial and Remonstrance on the Religious Rights of Man, S. C. Ustick, Washington, 1828, p. 10]
President Madison believed that religion was essential for public morality
Unlike Thomas Jefferson, who believed that people could still remain moral even if they no longer believed in God, James Madison held that religion was essential for public morality:
“The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.”
– Letter to Rev. Frederick Beasley (November 20, 1825)
James Madison held that the existence of God could be known by reason alone
As a young man, James Madison had read the writings of the English philosopher and theologian Dr. Samuel Clarke, whose 1704 work, A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, attempted to demonstrate the existence of God in a rigorous logical fashion. In a letter to a Dr. C. Caldwell, written in November 1825, Madison thanked Dr. Caldwell for a philosophical memoir which dealt with, among other topics, the proofs of the Being and attributes of God. Madison then expressed his puzzlement at the existence of some clergymen who rejected the possibility of arguing from Nature to a Divine Creator and who held that oral tradition (which pre-dated the Bible) was the only reliable road to God. Such a view, argued Madison, was not only extraordinary, but also un-Biblical (doubtless he was thinking of passages such as Romans 1:20):
“I concur with you at once in rejecting the idea maintained by some divines, of more zeal than discretion, that there is no road from nature up to nature’s God, and that all the knowledge of his existence and attributes which preceded the written revelation of them was derived from oral tradition. The doctrine is the more extraordinary, as it so directly contradicts the declarations you have cited from the written authority itself.” (Madison, James, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 3, J. B. Lippincott &Co., 1865, p. 505)
In a letter to Rev. Frederick Beasley dated November 20, 1825, Madison expressed his appreciation of a tract which Rev. Beasley had sent him, on the Being and attributes of God. Madison then went on to give his own opinion the argument to a First Cause would be the most efficacious in persuading people of God’s existence:
But whatever effect may be produced on some minds by the more abstract train of ideas which you so strongly support, it will probably always be found that the course of reasoning from the effect to the cause, “from Nature to Nature’s God,” Will be the more universal & more persuasive application.
(Madison, James, Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 3, J. B. Lippincott &Co., 1865, p. 504)
I conclude that Madison’s religious views have been mis-represented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Is the American Constitution godless?
As we saw above, the Freedom From Religion Foundation described the American Constitution as “godless” in its July 4 advertisement. Now, it is certainly true that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly mention God. But I’d like to point out that James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921, pictured above, 1914) didn’t think it was necessary or desirable for the Constitution to include a mention of God. As he put it in his Address, “The Religious Element in American Civilization” (h/t captainjamesdavis.net):
At first sight it might seem that religious principles were entirely ignored by the fathers of the Republic in framing the Constitution, as it contains no reference to God, and makes no appeal to religion. And so strongly have certain religious sects been impressed with this fact that they have tried to get the name of God incorporated into that document. But the omission of God’s holy name affords no just criterion of the religious character of the founders of the Republic, or of the Constitution which they framed. Nor should we have any concern to have the name of God imprinted in the Constitution, so long as the Instrument itself is interpreted by the light of Christian revelation. I would rather sail under the guidance of a living captain than of a figure-head at the prow of the ship. Far better for the nation that His Spirit should animate our laws, that He should be invoked in our Courts of Justice, that He should be worshipped in our Sabbaths and thanksgivings, and that His guidance should be implored in the opening of our Congressional proceedings.
But as Cardinal Gibbons went on to observe, the American Declaration of Independence is another matter: it is replete with references to God, from start to finish:
God’s holy name greets us in the opening paragraph, and is piously invoked in the last sentence of the Declaration; and thus it is, at the same time, the corner-stone and the keystone of this great monument to freedom. The illustrious signers declared that “when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another, and to, assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to the separation.” They acknowledge one Creator, the source of “life, liberty, and of happiness.” They “appeal to the Supreme judge of the world” for the rectitude of their intentions, and they conclude in this solemn language: “For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Cardinal Gibbons went on to argue that the laws of the United States are intimately inter-woven with the Christian religion:
The laws of the United States are so intimately interwoven with the Christian religion that they cannot be adequately expounded without the light of revelation. “The common law,” says Kent, “is the common jurisprudence of the United States, and was brought from England and established here, so far as it was adapted to our institutions and circumstances. It is an incontrovertible fact that the common law of England is, to a great extent, founded on the principles of Christian ethics. The maxims of the Holy Scriptures form the great criterion of right and wrong in the civil courts…
Note. — The oath of the President of the United States before he assumes the duties of office; that administered in courts of justice, not only to witnesses, but also to the judge, jury, lawyers, and officers of the court, in accordance with the Constitution, — implies a belief in God and forms of acts of worship. It is a national tribute to the universal sovereignty of the Creator. By the act of taking an oath a man makes a profession of faith in God’s unfailing truth, absolute knowledge, and infinite sanctity. The Christian Sabbath is revered, as a day of rest and public prayer, throughout the laud. This is national homage to the Christian religion.
The U. S. Constitution – not quite “godless”?
I was intrigued by Cardinal Gibbons’ reference to the Christian Sabbath, and did a little more research. I found that to this day, it is still acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution. Here it is, tucked away in Article 1, Section 7, part of which reads as follows:
If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation would have us believe that America is not, in any sense, a Christian nation. But the Supreme Court took a different view in a case entitled, Church of the Holy Trinity vs. the United States, 143 U. S. 457
This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. The commission to Christopher Columbus … [recited] that “it is hoped that by God’s assistance some of the continents and islands in the ocean will be discovered . . . .” The first colonial grant made to Sir Waiter Raleigh in 1584… and the grant authorizing him to enact statutes for the government of the proposed colony provided that “they be not against the true Christian faith . . . .” The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I in 1606 . . . commenced the grant in these words: ” . . . in propagating of Christian Religion to such People as yet live in Darkness . . . . Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony . . . in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various charters granted to the other colonies. In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant. The celebrated compact made by the Pilgrims in the Mayflower, 1620, recites: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith . . . a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia . . . . The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-1639, commence with this declaration: ” … And well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union . . . there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God . . . to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess . . . of the said gospel [which] is now practiced amongst us.” In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania, in 1701, it is recited: ” … no people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of. . . their religious profession and worship . . . . Coming nearer to the present time, the Declaration of Independence recognizes the presence of the Divine in human affairs in these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions . . . “; “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”…
The Court ruling went on to describe America as a “Christian nation”:
If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find every where a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters, note the following: the form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, “In the name of God, amen;” the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing every where under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe. These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.
Readers might also be interested in the online article, A Godless Constitution?: A Response to Kramnick and Moore by Daniel L. Dreisbach.
In conclusion: the claim that the Founding Fathers were out-and-out secularists, in anything like the modern sense of the word, does not withstand scrutiny. They were God-fearing men who believed that religion played an essential part in public morality. Nor was the Constitution they composed a “godless” document, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation claimed. Rather, it needs to be understood in its historical context. Situated in that context, it can be readily perceived that the Constitution is anything but godless.
97 Replies to “The Freedom From Religion Foundation: Getting the Founding Fathers wrong”
The Founding Fathers weren’t secularists. But they did have firsthand knowledge of how political leaders can use religion to further their own political ends (c/f Henry XIII and the Catholic Church).
Freedom of religion predates the founding fathers. It was one of the principles of the founding of the colony of Maryland in 1634. The Pilgrims and Puritans (Massachusetts Bay Colony) in the mid-1600s also wanted religious freedom
Maybe the Freedom From Religion Foundation should consider renaming themselves the Freedom From Facts Foundation. It’d be closer to truth.
Of related note:
Wallbuilder’s David Barton tells Glenn Beck about the Christian Heritage and Faith of the American Founding Fathers. (March 2010) – video
The Fallacy Of The Doctrine Of Separation of Church and State – video
Part of the price we have paid as a nation for that lie:
The Real Reason American Education Has Slipped – David Barton – video
What Lies Behind Growing Secularism by William Lane Craig – May 2012 – podcast (steep decline in altruism of young people since early 1960’s)
United States Crime Rates 1960 – 2010 (Please note the skyrocketing crime rate from 1963, the year prayer was removed from school, thru 1980, the year the steep climb in crime rate finally leveled off.) of note: The slight decline in crime rate from the mid 90s until now is attributed in large part to tougher enforcement on minor crimes. (a nip it in the bud policy)
AMERICA: To Pray Or Not To Pray – David Barton – graphs corrected for population growth
Hobby Lobby published an advertisement offering a dozen or so contextless quotations of founders and others centered around the theme “In God We Trust.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation published a counter-advertisement offering half a dozen contextless quotations centered around the themes “In Reason We Trust” and “Celebrate Our
History, of course, is hardly as simple as can be portrayed in such advertisements. Nor can history be adequately understood or evidenced by a few such quotations unrelated to context.
Claiming that the FFRF is “Getting the Founding Fathers wrong,” you quarrel about the context and implications of the quotations it offers and even argue that “the Constitution is anything but godless.” At the same time, you give a pass, it seems, to Hobby Lobby’s similarly contextless quotations, even though they are just as susceptible to a contextual assessment of them and those who stated them. A little more about that below.
I applaud your efforts to understand and explain the history and text of the Constitution in greater depth than possible in an advertisement. I think, though, that your quibbles with the FFRF’s quotations are largely off target and your further claim the Constitution is not godless falls short.
According to the FFRF, their advertisement quoted founders “on their strong views against religion in government, and often critical views on religion in general” in order to refute “the myth that the United States was founded on God and Christianity.”
In your review of those quotations, you do not deny that the specified founders said what the FFRF quoted, nor that those founders thereby expressed “strong views against religion in government” and, in some measure, “critical views on religion in general” as the FFRF stated. Rather, you shift focus from the FFRF’s stated point and instead assert that the quotations do not fully evidence other general propositions (e.g. they do not display indifference or antipathy toward religion) or that the specified founders also said other things you find friendlier to religion.
All of that largely misses the point. While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it, in some measure at least, from religion. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.
This sentiment was later recorded by a famous observer of the American experiment: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. . . . I questioned the members of all the different sects. . . . I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone, and that 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.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).
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 “We 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. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion 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.
Lest there be any doubt on this score, note that shortly after the founding, President John Adams (a founder) signed, with the unanimous consent of the Senate (comprised in large measure of founders), the Treaty of Tripoli declaring, in pertinent part, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” No need to resort to reading tea leaves to understand that. The FFRF advertisement (and your comments) actually sell this provision short. It is not an informal comment by an individual founder, but rather an official declaration of the most solemn sort by the United States government itself. Note that the Constitution provides that treaties, apart from the Constitution itself, are the highest law of the land. This provision cannot somehow be offset by observing that John Adams believed in miracles.
In support of your claim that the Constitution is not “godless,” you offer two arguments. First, you point to the Declaration of Independence. While some, like you, draw meaning from the references to “Nature’s God” and “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence (references that could mean many things to many people, some at odds with the Christian idea of God) and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is largely baseless. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence (that required winning a war), nor did it found a government, nor did it even create any law, and it certainly did not say or do anything that somehow dictated the meaning of a Constitution adopted twelve years later. The colonists issued the Declaration not to do any of that, but rather to politically 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 were free to choose whether to form a collective government at all and, if so, whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take its words 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 government founded on the power of the people (not a deity) and separated from religion.
Second, you point to the “Sundays excepted” clause of the Constitution. That would, even in the best of cases, be a slender reed on which to base a claim of constitutional godliness. As it is, though, you make more of the clause than it warrants, and infuse it with meaning it simply does not have. It does not, as you and Cardinal Gibbons seem to suppose, invoke the Christian Sabbath to shut down the government on that day or encourage a day of inactivity or even preclude a President from vetoing bills or doing anything else on Sundays. It merely excepts Sundays from the count of ten days a President has to veto bills and, thus, assures a President the better part of two work weeks for that purpose. The clause serves, if anything, to protect the President from losing time, in effect, as a result of the operation of state laws, prevalent at the time of the founding, restricting activities on Sundays, including travel.
You also make much of Justice Brewer’s statement in the Holy Trinity case that “this is a Christian nation.” This is an illustration of how context counts. The Court did not rule that this is a Christian nation, but rather held that a statute restricting importation of any alien under contract to perform labor or service did not preclude a church from contracting with an alien to come to this country and serve as its pastor. The Court based this holding on its finding that Congress intended simply to stay the influx of cheap, unskilled labor and did not intend to address circumstances such as the church’s contract with an alien pastor. It supported this finding, in dictum (i.e., a statement not essential to its holding), with the further thought that as this is a Christian nation, Congress would not have intended to restrict the church in this situation.
Brewer later clarified that he meant simply to observe that the nation’s people are largely Christian and not that the nation’s government or laws are somehow Christian: “But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that ‘congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. […] Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.” D. Brewer, The United States: A Christian Nation (1905) 12.
All that said, I agree with what I think is your overarching thesis that the founders would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. Moreover, given the republican nature of our government, I think it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government–in both the founders’ time and today–largely reflect Christianity’s dominant influence in our society.
That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion. By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. As noted above, it is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people’s expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people’s values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite–the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity’s influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that–and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow “lock in” (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.
I don’t where you get the time to write these thousands of words. I am afraid I haven’t qot the time read all of them (who has?). It would be interesting to know exactly which statements in the advertisement you think are false.
Mark Frank you ask:
I, for one, had time. ,,, Strange that you want to know which statements Dr. Torley found to be false, but you don’t have the 10 to 15 minutes necessary to read his post. Perhaps you can spare a few seconds to read his conclusion:
Excellent article which shows that whoever thought the founding fathers were secular are living in their own delusional bubble. The founding fathers knew how important it was to have one national under God.
You must be a truly remarkable reader. The post runs to just under 10,000 words. Average adult reading speed is about 250 words a minute. That works out at 40 minutes for 10,000 words. As a postgraduate adult I expect I am quite a bit faster than the average reader – say 25-30 minutes. But that is just to read it. It would be an injustice to VJ to read it without thoughtfully evaluating it and looking up a few references and then responding – at least an hour in total.
His conclusion is interesting and quite possibly justified – but how I am to know without spending that hour on it?
A brief summary of what is false in the advertisement would make it practical to evaluate what he wrote and possibly be convinced.
‘It would be an injustice to VJ to read it without thoughtfully evaluating it and looking up a few references and then responding – at least an hour in total.’
Wrong, Mark Frank. Quite wrong. You don’t have to be desperately pedantic in your reading of Phillip’s linked articles at all.
Yes, it would be an injustice to VJ to read his post without thoughtfully evaluating it, but such a thoughtful evaluation needs no more than for you to simply scan it. You are not a lawyer meticulously checking the terms of a multibillion pound contract.
And as for looking up a few references??!!! Do me a favour! If you want to really look into the details at your leisure, sure, that would be a tribute to VJ, too, but the exigencies placed on a primary poster here would be necessarily far more onerous than for the reader. What’s more, I strongly suspect that the only tribute he would really care for, is for you to grasp the import of his post.
Our jib with materialists is not on the grounds of their want of erudition. It’s far more elementary than that. It’s on the grounds that they want the residents to ‘explain scientifically’ why 2 + 2 = 4. A refusal to follow reason, indeed, common sense, where it leads. A refusal to make connections to inescapable conclusions, to which they feel the strongest antipathy – not because of the science but because of its implications for their worldview and life-style.
I took reading lessons from Matzke,,
Rush to Judgment: Nick Matzke’s Hasty Review of Darwin’s Doubt Makes Bogus Charges of Errors and Ignorance –
Excerpt: On Wednesday, June 19, the day after Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design was published and made available for purchase, UC Berkeley grad student Nick Matzke posted a harsh 9400+ word review on the blog Panda’s Thumb.,,,
Now, Darwin’s Doubt runs to 413 pages, excluding endnotes and bibliography. Neither the book’s publisher, HarperOne, nor its author sent Matzke a prepublication review copy. Did Matzke in fact read its 400+ pages and then write his 9400+ word response — roughly 30 double-spaced pages — in little more than a day?
But seriously, I mostly skimmed the highpoints highlighted by Dr. Torley.
But to the main overriding point Mr. Frank, do you personally think this nation greatly benefits or has been greatly harmed by belief in Christianity? I hold that even in the area of science and education, which atheists falsely imagine to support their materialistic/naturalistic worldview, has greatly benefited from belief in Christianity:
Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany – October 2011
Excerpt: I had discovered that over the same period of the twentieth century that the US had risen to scientific eminence it had undergone a significant Christian revival. ,,,The point I put to (Richard) Dawkins was that the USA was simultaneously by-far the most dominant scientific nation in the world (I knew this from various scientometic studies I was doing at the time) and by-far the most religious (Christian) nation in the world. How, I asked, could this be – if Christianity was culturally inimical to science?
The History of Christian Education in America
Excerpt: The first colleges in America were founded by Christians and approximately 106 out of the first 108 colleges were Christian colleges. In fact, Harvard University, which is considered today as one of the leading universities in America and the world was founded by Christians. One of the original precepts of the then Harvard College stated that students should be instructed in knowing God and that Christ is the only foundation of all “sound knowledge and learning.” http://www.ehow.com/about_6544.....erica.html
Whereas on the other hand I hold that this nation has been greatly harmed whenever secularists have been able to use the Supreme court to circumvent the will of the people (legislating from the bench) by removing prayer from school and legalizing abortion:
The Real Reason American Education Has Slipped – David Barton – video
The body count for abortion is now over 50 million in America since it was legalized, by judicial fiat not by public decree, in 1973 (legislation by liberal justices from the bench!):
At 1,200,000, Abortion is the leading cause of deaths each year in the USA – graph
These are horrendous facts that ought sober you right up from your secular humanist delusions Mr. Frank. But will you care?
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
(Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229, October 11, 1798.)
A debate on what is a reasonable approach to reading an article is itself a bit of a waste of time – but worth 10 minutes. If an article is about a subject with which you are familiar, and especially if you are sympathetic to the writer’s case, then it may be reasonable to skim read it and nod appreciatively.
However, if the article is about an unfamiliar subject and making an argument which you want to critically examine then it would be a gross injustice to skim through it and would leave you open to justified criticism that haven’t really read what was there. This is not pedantry. It is understanding what has been said. This is particularly true of this article which is not making a logical point on the lines of 2+2=4 but asking the reader to reevaluate several characters attitude to religion on the basis of multiple detailed quotes from documents. That much I can quickly determine. What those attitudes are, whether the documents really support the case, to what extent they contradict the advertisement – that is much more time consuming and if you haven’t done it then you have taken the argument for granted rather than evaluating it.
Thank you for admitting that you skimmed VJ’s article. It follows from this that you do not actually know if his arguments are valid – just that you like the conclusions.
You have confronted me with even more things to read/look at – some of which seem to have dubious relevance. Please give me a break. I don’t know whether Christianity has had a negative or positive influence overall on the USA. It is very hard to evaluate. Of course this has nothing to do with whether Christianity is true.
I am not sure why you put in all the stuff about abortion. I don’t think abortion is a morally wrong but I do think it is sad that it should be necessary. However, I don’t think the relatively high abortion rate is due to a lack of Christian values in the USA. Other developed countries with much high levels of atheism such as the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have similar or lower rates.
Excellent research and presentation, which I read with interest and have bookmarked for future reference.
I would add that the structure of the overall document is a Grand Statement style legal document.
Some years ago, I analysed it thusly (cf. here on):
I then went on to say, and to link onwards from:
There has been a lot of distortion of actuality in the way the history of the US founding — and thus the rise of modern liberty and represenational democracy –has been commonly understood, and a corrective such as yours is appreciated.
That so many are willing to stay with destructive misrepresenations instead of make the modicum of effort to actually simply read a well researched corrective that would move them towards truth, is sad, sadly revealing.
Re MF: While 300 or so WPM may be average silent reading rate (and 150/min a reasonable estimate of speaking rate), there are many who read much faster than that, in my own case thanks to Readak. My long term retained reading rate is I believe about 500 – 600 WPM. KF
F/N: pre-reading survey rate would be up to 2 – 3 times that, which then guides pausing to focus.
The only real “deist” in the modern understanding of the word was Paine – even Franklin believed god actively intervened in the affairs of the world. “Deist” didn’t mean back then what it means today.
I have a 12-volume DVD set that pores over the actual documents of the founding forefathers, including letters written to each other, and their actions both in office and out. They put Christian iconography and scripture on just about every public structure and printing. They issued Christian proclamations and legislation. They would have long debates (via letters) about the nature of the Holy Ghost and how it should be interpreted, and how legislation would best serve scriptural obligations. Non-Christians were not allowed to vote or hold public office.
Let’s not forget that Paine was run out of the country for his Deistic views, his career and reputation here ruined.
The idea that the nation was not founded on Christian views and values is one more absurd, hyperskeptical denial of the obvious – or, less charitably, it is purposeful deception. Academia and the media have taken a few quotes from a select few of the founding forefathers out of context and have hammered out an entirely false set of portraits to condition the young with.
It’s no secret that so many giants of Western science were theists, and many scholars have postulated the rise of our sciences to the belief among theologians that the attributes of God can be discerned through rational discourse. So naturally God’s works can be studied and understood similarly. I’m not an expert in this so all I will say additionally is that you can look at the writings of DesCartes, Newton, and Mendel and it is plain as day what they say on the topic.
Now here is a related subject, what a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar was quoted as saying: that the result of a 20 year study commissioned by the government concluded that the stupendous success of the West was due to Christianity. The existence of this study has apparently not been verified.
Here is my source for the previous and it obviously stirred a lot of controversy among atheist commenters at the end: http://www.fstdt.net/QuoteComm.....038;Page=2
One could postulate the tolerance and even support for Christianity in China as due to such a study. The Chinese Catholic Church is government sanctioned, and with a totalitarian twist, is the only Catholic church allowed.
Here is an example of how Christianity is encouraged in China, an indicator of the veracity of the theme of the previous link:
But Mark Frank, all of this reading and discussion on what would seem to be a topic crucial to the survival of our civilization takes time which you say you don’t have.
Mark Franks suffice it to say that I, as a Christian who has seen the inside of houses of worship more than a few times, have sufficient background in this area to know that Dr. Torley’s claims carry very much historical precedence and weight. Whereas #1 you are the one that has the unenviable burden to prove your secular claim to the contrary, and #2 you also have the unenviable burden to justify the horrendous atrocities committed by secularist societies who have claimed man to be god and able to guide his own affairs without guidance from above. Only an atheistic ideologue, such as yourself, bent on denying historical reality itself would try to undertake such a foolhardy task. But anyways may you try to justify your claims and be exposed 9 ways to Sunday in your fraudulent endeavor, as I am sure you will be by the very capable commenters of UD:
The unmitigated horror visited upon man, by state sponsored atheism, would be hard to exaggerate,,, Here’s what happens when Atheists/evolutionists/non-Christians take control of Government:
If You Thought Religion was a Bad Idea…Check Out Atheism – Kirk Durston – June, 2012
Excerpt: To summarize why purely atheistic societies are so dangerous, they not only killed for the cause of advancing a purely atheistic society, but their moral guardrail has no grounds. Thus, extraordinary democide can result, because a portable, hand carried moral guardrail is no guardrail at all.
“169,202,000 Murdered: Summary and Conclusions [20th Century Democide]
2. The New Concept of Democide [Definition of Democide]
3. Over 133,147,000 Murdered: Pre-Twentieth Century Democide
II 128,168,000 VICTIMS: THE DEKA-MEGAMURDERERS
4. 61,911,000 Murdered: The Soviet Gulag State
5. 35,236,000 Murdered: The Communist Chinese Ant Hill
6. 20,946,000 Murdered: The Nazi Genocide State
7. 10,214,000 Murdered: The Depraved Nationalist Regime
III 19,178,000 VICTIMS: THE LESSER MEGA-MURDERERS
8. 5,964,000 Murdered: Japan’s Savage Military
9. 2,035,000 Murdered: The Khmer Rouge Hell State
10. 1,883,000 Murdered: Turkey’s Genocidal Purges
11. 1,670,000 Murdered: The Vietnamese War State
12. 1,585,000 Murdered: Poland’s Ethnic Cleansing
13. 1,503,000 Murdered: The Pakistani Cutthroat State
14. 1,072,000 Murdered: Tito’s Slaughterhouse
IV 4,145,000 VICTIMS: SUSPECTED MEGAMURDERERS
15. 1,663,000 Murdered? Orwellian North Korea
16. 1,417,000 Murdered? Barbarous Mexico
17. 1,066,000 Murdered? Feudal Russia”
This is, in reality, probably just a drop in the bucket. Who knows how many undocumented murders there were. It also doesn’t count all the millions of abortions from around the world.
Chairman MAO: Genocide Master
“…Many scholars and commentators have referenced my total of 174,000,000 for the democide (genocide and mass murder) of the last century. I’m now trying to get word out that I’ve had to make a major revision in my total due to two books. I’m now convinced that that Stalin exceeded Hitler in monstrous evil, and Mao beat out Stalin….”
Atheists like to point to the Spanish inquisition and witch hunts, etc.. etc.. to try to say that atheism is better than Christianity. Yet atheists forget to ‘look in the mirror’ at the exponentially worse horror that was visited upon mankind in atheistic regimes. Sure atrocities were committed in the name of Christianity, but the plain fact of the matter is that any way you look at it mankind is evil and is desperately in need of redemption. But man, a society, left to his own devices without God is exponentially worse than man, a society, that tries however imperfectly, to follow God.
So the founding fathers were smart enough not to give any church absolute power and today’s atheists thinks that means something good for them?
Oops, excellent job, again, Dr Torley.
Game-Set-Match, to VJT!
A couple comments:
Thomas Paine died a pariah. Only 6 people came to his funeral in New York City. A lot of this alienation had to do with his religious beliefs or lack of them.
Christmas is an official holiday of the United States.
I don’t normally respond to atheist death lists – the argument are so absurd – but yours illustrate nicely the dangers of skim reading. You have included 5 religious states, 2 of which are Christian! (Japan, Turkey, Pakistan, Feudal Russia and Mexico). I have not included Nazi Germany although that was officially a Christian state as I am aware that many people on UD belief it to be atheist.
Actually the whole death numbers game is absurd. Among other things it does not take into account how many people were in the population at the time or the means available to kill them. Even the worst monster cannot kill people that don’t exist. The 30 years war was clearly a Christian war and accounted for between 25 and 40 of the population of Germany. The only massacre in your list to come close to this percentage is the Cambodian. But of course populations were lower and the means to kill them less efficient. Do you think that the people who did these awful things would have stopped at 100 million if they had the opportunity and the means? That being a theist somehow sets a limit on the number you are prepared to massacre?
Mark Frank, the only thing that is absurd in all this is you trying to attribute to Christianity what happens when a Nation strays far from its Christian heritage. Certainly you are not so blind as to think that the ‘degrees of evil’ we are looking at are not readily apparent! The more atheistic a regime is, the more ruthlessly cruel it becomes!,, I admitted that atrocities occurred under Christianity, but for you to dismiss 200,000,000 deaths in atheistic regimes is simply ludicrous! Your dogma is showing
BA77 I am not dismissing those deaths. I am just arguing about how much they relate to atheism. Perhaps you could answer my question. In view of the large scale massacres committed by religious and Christian states (some of which you kindly provided) do you think theism somehow limits the number of people a government/despot is prepared to murder?
Mark Frank, when I reference the different ‘degrees of evil’ we are dealing with, ponder this for a sec, the atheistic regimes did this to the people within their own nations not to people they were at war with, not a minor point to consider.,,, The right to life as a objective concept to govern a nation is a joke in any false atheistic ideology and can only be firmly grounded within the truth of Theism.
BA77 – I repeat my question:
In view of the large scale massacres committed by religious and Christian states (some of which you kindly provided) do you think theism somehow limits the number of people a government/despot is prepared to murder?
Mark Frank do you support unrestricted abortion? Or were you happy when the Texas government passed these restriction on abortion?
Texas House passes abortion bill; Senate next stop
The bill requires doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers and ban abortions after 20 weeks.
If you were upset that the Texas government protected the right to life for unborns after 20 weeks, there is really nothing further to argue about is there since you do not really believe in the right to life for other humans?
Mark Frank responds,, HUH??? then full denial mode.
BA77 Being a UK citizen I have no knowledge of Texas legislation. However, I can answer your first question. I don’t support totally unrestricted abortion (I don’t know anyone who does).
Now how about answering mine:
In view of the large scale massacres committed by religious and Christian states (some of which you kindly provided) do you think theism somehow limits the number of people a government/despot is prepared to murder?
(I don’t know anyone who does).
Let me introduce you to Barack Obama:
What Does the President of the United States Believe about Infants Born Alive after a Botched Abortion?
Excerpt: IL Senate 2001 (Senate Bill 1095, Born Alive Infant Protection Act)
Senator Obama voted “no” in the Senate Judiciary Committee (March 28, 2001)
Senator Obama argued against the bill on the IL Senate floor (March 30, 2001) (see pp. 84-90 of this PDF)
Senator Obama voted “present” for the bill (March 30, 2001)
IL Senate 2002 (Senate Bill 1662, Born Alive Infant Protection Act)
Senator Obama voted “no” vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee (March 6, 2002)
Senator Obama argued against the bill on the IL Senate floor (April 4, 2002) (see pp. 28-35 of this PDF)
Senator Obama voted “no” for the bill (April 4, 2002)
IL Senate 2003 (Senate Bill 1082, Born Alive Infant Protection Act)
Senator Obama, who chaired the Health and Human Services Committee, held the bill from receiving a committee vote and stopped the senate’s sponsor from adding the federal act’s clarification paragraph, which made the bills absolutely identical.
As to your question, OKIE DOKIE pick out a nation from the list and let’s go through the details and see just how tightly the ‘Christian’ connection you contend is there holds up to scrutiny shall we?
BA77 – I am impressed by the number of ways you find to avoid answering the question. It might help if I simplify it.
Do you think being a theist somehow limits the number of people you are prepared to murder?
You only have to type YES or NO.
I am not going to get drawn into a lengthy debate about how Christian such and such a country was.
(The details you give about Obama clearly don’t show that he supports unrestricted abortion – but then if you read 10,000 words in 10 minutes you miss details like that.)
Mark Frank, au contraire, I want to get into a 10,000 word detailed response, and expose you for the fraud you are. Pick any nation and let’s see if we can make this ‘Christian, connection you assure us is there stick.
As well Mark Frank, you don’t know how offended I am, as a American, that you, a Brit toff, would come on a site discussing the America’s founding fathers beliefs. If you don’t remember, it was the oppressive Brits we had to fight off in the American revolution. So as to establish a free Christian nation. And here you are trying to twist American history around basically trying to tell Americans that we don’t even know our own history. I guess that old Brit arrogance never dies!
Thank you for your comments. I’d be happy to answer the question you put to BA77. You asked:
If by “theist” you merely mean “someone who believes in a supernatural Creator of the universe,” then the answer is “No.” Someone might believe in a supernatural Creator without believing that the Creator is (a) concerned in any way with human affairs or (b) morally good. Even Adolf Hitler may have been a theist, by the definition provided above: He may have believed in a God who set up the laws of natural selection, by which, he believed, the strong would triumph over the weak. (I say “may” because his biographers have wildly divergent views as to Hitler’s religious beliefs.) It seems that Hitler spoke at times of a “Creator” and even of “Providence” – but being a member of the Aryan race, he may have simply regarded his membership of the “privileged” race as “providential.”
Not once, however, did Hitler express the belief that God punishes acts of injustice. However, Jefferson the Deist possessed this belief (“Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever…”), as of course did the other Founding Presidents. What about Thomas Paine? He believed passionately in the rights of man, which he held to be natural rights. (By comparison, the only natural right Hitler believed in seems to have been the right of the strong to rule the weak – a practice which requires no rights to legitimize it, as might alone will do the trick.) He also believed in a merciful God and in an afterlife in which virtue is rewarded, as the following quotes show:
What about Benjamin Franklin? Here’s what he thought:
When did Hitler ever talk like that about God? Never.
To sum up: if you believe in a just God Who punishes acts of injustice, whether in this life or the next, that will limit the number of people you are prepared to murder – hopefully to zero, if you take your beliefs seriously.
to top it off you. a Brit, want to tell me, an American, that I don’t know Obama’s stance on abortion:
OBAMA SUPPORTED INFANTICIDE IN 02 AS SENATOR – video
Thanks Dr. Torley, the last paragraph is basically what I would have said to Mark Frank if he would have picked a nation out of the list, but it was sure nice to see such a detailed set up towards that conclusion be put forth. I would have perhaps bolded your last sentence “if you take your beliefs seriously” though.
BA77 – I am sorry to have offended you – clearly only Americans are qualified to discuss this issue.
VJ has kindly answered the question which you declined to answer. There is nothing about being a theist which limits the number of people you choose to murder. He writes:
if you believe in a just God Who punishes acts of injustice, whether in this life or the next, that will limit the number of people you are prepared to murder – hopefully to zero, if you take your beliefs seriously.
The trouble is that there have been many theists, including Christians, who have believed that it was their duty to eliminate various groups such as Protestants or Catholics or heretics or Jews or Muslims and that God will reward them for doing this. Such people were only limited from achieving the numbers in the 20th century by lack of victims and/or lack of means.
Really the theism/atheism distinction is not the relevant one when it comes to mass murder. The largely atheist states in Europe are among the most peaceable that have ever existed. The more important distinction is between those states that are driven by an ideology which they feel gives them the justification to do awful things and those that are more pragmatic and easy going.
Thanks very much for the links on China. Here are some more links with the quote you kindly provided from historian Niall Ferguson’s recollection of a conversation he had with a scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the vital part of which reads as follows:
The quote can also be found on these Websites:
http://www.abroadwithaview.com.....lture.html (ABroad with a View, post on Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation: The West and the Rest)
http://www.ionainstitute.ie/index.php?id=1336 (The Iona Blog, post by Tom O’Gorman)
http://gypsyscholarship.blogsp.....t-and.html (Review by Horace Jeffery Hodges of Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation: The West and the Rest )
http://www.gordon.edu/ACE/pdf/.....rinols.pdf (A review of Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success)
Hope that is of help to some.
Mark Frank, you are delusional if you think that mass murders committed by atheistic regimes of the last century to their own people are anything close to Christian atrocities. The degree of evil in killing one’s own people to the tune of tens of millions does not even come close to war in terms of ‘degree of evil’. ,,, Your very insincere apology still does not excuse the characteristic Brit arrogance you reveal when you suppose to tell Americans that they don’t know their history about the revolution and the founding-fathers. In fact the insincerity of it reveals exactly the arrogant attitude that most Americans still find unpleasant about Brits.
Hi Mark Frank,
A lot of people talk about the largely atheist states in Northern Europe, but it’s easy to be tolerant and easy-going while you’re rich. Scandinavian prosperity, as far as I can make out, is the result of a combination of the following factors: a small population, a strong ethic of mutual trust, an enterpreneurial culture which encourages innovation (in the mid-19th century), a once-strong work ethic (which is being progressively weakened by the welfare state), political neutrality and (in Norway’s case) North Sea oil. How long will that continue, I wonder? If you look at PPP per capita, only Norway is still in the top ten. Sweden and Denmark are below Ireland but above Germany.
You make a good point about religious fanaticism. All I can say here is that if you believe humans are made in the image and likeness of a God Who rewards acts of mercy and justice and punishes injustice, then, other things being equal, that belief will make you less likely to harm others. A religion can become toxic, however, if it inculcates in its members the notion that God expects people to kill others for their beliefs.
If we look at the history of Christianity, the “killing phase” seems to have been concentrated in a 400-year period, from 1231 (the foundation of the medieval Inquisition) to 1649 (the Treaty of Westphalia). Since then, the Christian Churches seem to have finally accepted religious toleration (which Christians practiced in the early centuries of Christianity) and purged themselves of any murderous tendencies they once had.
You quoted Gregg Frazer’s research which is now on Amazon as The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution . Frazer will be speaking at my church this coming Sunday evening.
It seems a note of caution has been put forth on Frazer’s work:
‘However, I don’t think the relatively high abortion rate is due to a lack of Christian values in the USA. Other developed countries with much high levels of atheism such as the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have similar or lower rates.’
The ‘bien pensants’ in the US, among whom I would number some of my ID colleagues on here, ‘talk’ good Christianity, until they feel their indulgent patronage by Mammon is threatened by talk of welfare for the increasingly penurious and now oppressed mass of the population.
Despite the many devout poor in the US, notably, it seems, in the South, the country itself has, since very early times, been a byword for materialism and Mammon worship. Moloch’s a more recent idol. So, those poor Christians in the South and elsewhere struggle in a fiendishly demonic ‘ethos’ of both economic and, inevitably, sexual depravity.
Scandinavia on the other hand, where in at least one the countries, even agnostics are happy to pay a tax for use of the Lutheran church for Christian rites of passage.
But in any event, the prosperous economic right in the US are to Christianity, basically what Christ said they would be, in the parable of Lazarus and his description of the Last Judgment, eschatalogically, a sorely disadvantaged group. It’s not even as if Jesus equivocated to the slightest extent, or expressed any kind of ambivalence towards the coveting of wealth and status.
And now I read vjt vilifying welfare, state assistance to the victims of those with the sharpest elbows, who otherwise run things in their own interests. Shame on you all. It is not only merciless, it is blaming the victims, it is your own ‘monied’ friends who have brought the world to the edge of an unparalleled economic catastrophe – made in the US, and precisely by polarizing the nation’s wealth to their own enrichment – by wholesale fraud at that, in the highest reaches of the banking system.
Christ told the Pharisees they were no children of Abraham, yet praised foreigners for showing a true Christian spirit – charity, self-giving love. How much more difficult it has become for the Christian church to evangelise, with such a mismatch between words and deeds by the respectable, monied, good Christian folk.
My main concern is to address the crude idea that atheism leads to atrocities based on the fact that several communist governments in the 20th century perpetrated the largest massacres of their own people in history.
The Scandinavian examples prove that atheism does not necessarily lead to violent governments that abuse their own or any other people. The reasons they are so peaceful and whether that will continue is an interesting question which just goes to show that these things are complex and subtle.
The Christian wars and massacres of the period you mention show that Christianity does not necessarily prevent governments and people doing awful things. There are of course plenty of examples of theist governments and peoples of other religions at other times doing awful things. BA77 provided several.
This proves that in practice theism/atheism is not the key factor in deciding whether a government or people commits atrocities. BA77 and others would argue that religious massacres are not comparable to the 20th century communist massacres. This seems to be based on the number of people killed and the fact the governments killed their own people. However, many theist governments did kill their own people – e.g. Catholic governments were fond of killing their Protestant people and vice versa. I would argue that the difference in scale is simply a matter of opportunity. Do we really think that the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre was limited to between 5,000 and 20,000 because the perpetrators religion told them that any more would be immoral? Surely they just ran out of Huguenots to kill and/or the time and energy to do it.
(Incidentally BA77’s religion does not seem to be preventing him from being rather aggressive on this very theme!)
Great work, VJ. You might be interested to know that the treaty of Tripoli was an anomaly. The writers were trying to avoid war with a Muslim nation, which explains their comments about the Trinity. It was done for political and pragmatic reasons.
In fact, the United States was involved in other treaties during that same era in which God was honored as Trinity. The Treaty of Paris of 1783, for example, which was negotiated by Ben Franklin and John Adams, begins with these words, “In the Name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.” There are other examples, but I don’t have time right now to chase them down.
Also, most state constitution began by asking for blessings and guidance from the Trinitarian God.
Mark, I disagree with your complaint about length of VJ’s post. When an organization like FFRF misrepresents the truth in such a stark fashion, it is appropriate to set the record straight with sufficient information in rebuttal. I, for one, appreciate a well-researched, well organized, well written presentation of this kind.
Fair enough. It was not so much a complaint as a comment that I would appreciate a summary of what is wrong in the advertisement. An essay suits your needs and if that is the audience VJ wishes to address fair enough. Those who are on the “opposite side of the fence” to him are going to need longer to read it (it takes time to assess arguments you are suspicious of) and are less likely to feel that investing that time will be worth while. If VJ wants to change anyone’s mind then I suggest a summary would serve his purposes better.
Mark Frank @ 13: “I don’t know whether Christianity has had a negative or positive influence overall on the USA. It is very hard to evaluate.”
As the child of parents who fled a communist/atheistic government I assure you that the influence of christianity on the USA has been, like, totally awful. I really can’t stand it here what with all these “god given” rights and would much rather sail back to Cuban shores to live my remaining years in abject poverty and under constant oppression.
I can’t think of anything more awesome than that.
Mark Frank states,
If you knew my life or lived closed to me, you would be very happy to know what Christ has prevented me from doing.,, But then again you seem impervious to compassion for other people’s suffering and are willing to rationalize unparallelled evil away just so to protect your false atheistic delusions. You act as if the unmitigated horror visited on man by the atheistic regimes of the 20th century (and currently in North Korea) really do not matter since you can appeal to militarily weak but monetarily prosperous atheistic nations. These ‘weak’ nations are members of a larger, stronger, community that expects them to act humanely, ‘morally’, towards their own people. Yet when an atheistic regime is strong enough to exert full ‘moral control’ over its own people then the results are devastating. i.e. Why should the independent atheistic nations care what the international community thinks when they can’t do anything about it? i.e. What you do when you think no one can prevent you from doing what you want is what reveals true character. Your intellectual dishonesty in the matter is truly sad and infuriating given the scale of suffering involved ,, i.e. For an example of one thing you so ‘innocently’ ignore (as if ‘innocent’ even has a proper place within atheism) is that you have no moral basis within your atheistic worldview to say whether a government killing 100 million of their own people is really evil or not. You just conveniently ‘borrow’ theistic precepts to say that it is evil to murder 100 million of your own people, but you certainly cannot justify why it would necessarily be so. In fact Mr. Frank, your worldview denies the existence of mind all together. You can’t even justify why you are on this site usind ‘reason’ since reason is not a objective commodity within your atheistic worldview. Which brings us to the truly important question behind all of this in the first place. Is atheism or is Theism true? Mr. Frank, as to this question, which renders all other questions on this matter moot, I find, from science itself, atheism to be, epistemologically and emprically, without a foundation in science. i.e. not only can atheists not justify doing science in the first place, but the evidence from science itself refutes atheism.
Do me a favour – please reassure BA77 that my compassion for human suffering is as great as the next man’s.
This is why I think it is a good idea to rationally explore the causes of the various horrific massacres throughout history. Many of the worst were done by communist regimes that included atheism as part of the manifesto. But correlation is not causation. Others were done by regimes that accepted or even favoured particular types of theism. There are theist and atheist regimes that have been malign and theist and atheist regimes that have been benign. If we are interested in preventing them happening again, as opposed to using them as propaganda for out particular world view, we need to understand things more subtlety. And we need to do that without personal animosity if we are to listen to and address the various arguments.
If you felt like laying off the personal invective I would be happy to do this.
Mark Frank, You claim atheism can ground morality and ‘compassion’ but the plain fact of the matter is that you cannot do so. Morality must be subjective on atheism. That is one, of many reasons, why I can confidently dismiss your atheistic arguments as irrational!
Mark Frank you state, “Others were done by regimes that accepted or even favoured particular types of theism.”
This is a particular charge of yours that I would like to deconstruct so as to show that the reality of Christ’s positive influence over man. But it will have to wait til later on today, I must tend to some business this morning.
Something can be both subjective and grounded. But we have been over this so many times it would be silly to repeat it.
Very happy to discuss specific cases.
MF, “Something can be both subjective and grounded. But we have been over this so many times it would be silly to repeat it.”
Oh please do humor me with the ‘silliness’ as to how a consistent morality can be grounded within the materialism of atheism,
,,,Or for those who are immune to common sense (ahem atheists) there’s this formal argument,,
(Is God a Moral Monster?) New Atheists and the Old Testament God – Jeremiah Johnston – video
I am not claiming that morality is consistent. It is obvious that people disagree over moral questions. I only claim that it is grounded in the sense that
a) humanity has a core of common attitudes to things such suffering which while not universal are sufficiently common to give us a common ground
b) it is possible to make rational arguments about moral questions even though there is never a conclusive argument that cannot be refuted
I have had to explain this many times so I put it on my web site. It is about 640 words long. If you are not interested to pursue this I quite understand. If you are interested, please take the time to read and understand it. If you spend less than 30 minutes I am almost certain you will have treated it with a predetermined emotional reaction rather than trying to identify exactly what is wrong.
MF, I don’t have to read your post-modern chatter because 200 million souls cry for vengeance on the immorality of Atheism.
MF, you wanted to go over details of particular “Christian’ nations that you hold committed atrocities. In your dishonesty, I saw that you held that the NAZI’s to be one of these Christian nations, but backed away from that claim because you thought we held they were atheistic (I don’t, but that is what you said). I encourage you to defend this position of yours. If you can convince me that the NAZI’s were Christian I will admit that your case is not completely absurd! Deal??? i.e. Do you want to defend your intellectually dishonest position that the NAZI’s were Christian? Or will you like Dawkins, be a coward?
Here are a few rats MF would prefer to be left in the dark:
The Soviet Union Story – documentary video
The Soviet Story is a 2008 documentary film about Soviet Communism and Soviet-German collaboration before 1941 written and directed by Edv?ns Šnore and sponsored by the UEN Group in the European Parliament.
The chilling 1831 ‘prophecy’ of Heinrich Heine for Germany:
“Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. …
The old stone gods will then rise from long ruins and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and Thor will leap to life with his giant hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals. …
… Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder … comes rolling somewhat slowly, but … its crash … will be unlike anything before in the history of the world. …
At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in farthest Africa will draw in their tails and slink away. … A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.” –
BA77 for interest I gathered some choice quotes from your comments above:
Do you really think we have the basis for a constructive discussion?
MF, Do you really think we have the basis for a constructive discussion?
Not as long as you refuse to be honest to the evidence!
MF, that reminds me you never did apologize for your arrogance nor for being wrong when called on it. Or do hurt feelings only count when your feelings are hurt and not mine? But of course since you can’t really base morality in atheism and its all subjective then it’s all just swell by you huh? FAIL!
I apologise if I appear arrogant. I certainly didn’t mean to be. I am not aware of being wrong about anything.
I take it you feel you nothing to apologise for?
Let me rephrase that more accurately.
Although I am often wrong about things and may well have been wrong about something in our discussion, I am not aware of a specific case where you have demonstrated that I am wrong.
To refresh people on you inherent dishinesty, you stated:
To which I referenced direct testimony from a nurse who witnessed, first hand, Obama’s policy of unrestricted abortion, to the point of letting babies born alive, who survived abortion procedures, die:
OBAMA SUPPORTED INFANTICIDE IN 02 AS SENATOR – video
,, Did you admit you were wrong MF? NO! you doubled down on being wrong and feigned hurt feelings when, if morality were actually an objective commodity in your worldview, you should have admitted you were wrong in saying Obama does not support unrestricted abortion.,,, That is what I mean we cannot have constructive dialoge since you are dishonest to the evidence! ,,, And although Obama does not perform actual abortion procedures, the cold calculated cruelty of the legislation he himself championed, is, in my moral view of reality, on the same level of evil as the Gosnell case which recently shocked America in the level of cruelty that is inherent in many parts of the abortion industry:
Kermit Gosnell, the former ‘House of Horrors’ abortionist serving life in prison for the deaths of babies born alive in his filthy, Philadelphia clinic, now has another stain on his blood-soaked record: drug dealing.
I said that the details you give about Obama clearly don’t show that he supports unrestricted abortion. They didn’t even attempt to say that. So as far as I can see that statement of mine is correct.
You then gave some more evidence. I didn’t bother to watch it as you supply so many videos – many of which are not even relevant to what you are trying to say. I have now looked at the first few minutes. At least it purports to show that he supports unrestricted abortion. However, a you-tube video clearly put together for political purposes containing one or two anecdotes is not evidence.
What have I said that is wrong?
MF, the only one trying to manipulate things for political purposes is you! The facts are that babies born alive in Illinois, who somehow miraculously survive abortions, are allowed to die in the elements because of the almost singular efforts of Obama legislative maneuvering in the Illinois legislature in 02. A Nurse gives testimony to the horror of witnessing all of this first hand. You claim it is political. A baby dying in the elements is NOT politics MF! It is murderous evil!
Moreover your apology for ‘appearing’ to be arrogant is laughable.
i.e. I apologize, not that I have been arrogant, but for you falsely believing that I am arrogant.,, You REALLY have no clue do you? If I am wrong I will apologize on my own behalf thank you and I don’t need you apologizing for me!,,,
Mark Frank, (referencing #46)
I suspect if you had been given the “10 minute reading” version, you would have dismissed it as being incomplete and inconclusive.
If you are really interested in what vjt has to say, you should, I think, be willing to wade through all of the case that he is able to muster.
I, myself, read almost all of it. (500 to 600 wpm?, I wish!) I skipped over quotations I recalled from similar essays by other writers on this subject. I am in 100% agreement with vjt. The attempt to severe the origin of the US and its Constitution from its Christian roots by present day atheists and progressives/liberals is just plain wrong. Vjt has well exposed another willfully deceptive attempt. Vjt has made a valiant stand. I fear, though, the battle is lost. Too, few are willing to invest the time to learn the truth.
I am sorry that you drew the conclusion from my earlier post (#39) that I do not support welfare spending. On the contrary, I do. Of course, people without a job who are looking for work need support, as do people in dire poverty. I simply regard Sweden’s welfare system as weakening the work ethic. I might add that back in 2009, in a comment of mine, I also wrote that I thought universal health coverage was a good thing, while emphatically rejecting Quality of Life Years system used by the UK National Health Service, and of course, Obamacare. I hope that clears up matters.
I greatly appreciate your defense of unborn human life, and your exposure of the failings of the current President in this regard, as documented here: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ne.....n/08061010 . I pray that he has a change of heart, some day.
For the record, I would like to state that while I have had my philosophical disagreements with Mark Frank in the past, I regard him as a decent human being, and I respect his courtesy and sincerity.
I did think of attaching a short summary to the prefix of this post when I put it online, but time considerations prevented me. (I had a morning train to catch.) I’ll try and put up one in a few hours.
Dr. Torley, and I too very much appreciate you defense for the right to life. As to MF, all I can say is to say that you have a far more charitable view of his motives than I. It is simply almost impossible for me to believe that someone can be so dishonest solely by accident.
Thank you, Dr Torley. Essentially, yes, although I disagree with the very notion of a work ethic as characteristically Christian, and actually deplore it, though I’m the outlier, it seems.
It strikes me that very few people need an incentive to work, since it is a natural virtue, inspired not by supernatural grace, but by a desire for money (the things it can buy) and the status attaching to wealth.
Today there is a folk memory of a time not so long ago, when people were paid a living wage. When they know they are being increasingly ‘stiffed’ by their ‘betters’, their motivation suffers a tad. Is it any wonder? The thieves at the top demand more money to motivate them – don’t laugh… or they’ll go abroad! The workers, however, are apparently motivated in the opposite manner, by keeping wages low. Plus of course with globalisation the traitorous monied class will export jobs abroad.
The atheist materialist, Marx, deplored the poverty of the desires of the poor; as did Thatcher, who deplored it, alas, for all together less noble reasons.
In fact, in the Gospels, Christ warned us against mis-characterizing natural virtues, impulses, etc, pointing out that even the robbers, the pagans et al do as much. Far from fearing things that would discourage industry and the monied people’s policy of deferred pleasure, he tells us in his Sermon on the Mount to live for the day. ‘Regard the lilies of the field, they labour not neither do they spin…’
An evidently very successful, local quantity surveyor I gave a lift to as a minicab driver found that the Anawin in the Middle East are still alive and well. When given overtime to speed the completion of the job, the builder’s labourers would then take a day or two off to enjoy their extra money!
In my experience, young people tended to have a very feckless attitude to their work, but I was very pleased to see it, since at the back of their wee bonces I believe they were trying to figure out what life was about. From our post Christian sixties up to the present, no-one would have imparted to them the priceless wisdom (and supreme motivation), imparted to me by an old Polish cafe proprietor, that whatever we do – say, sweeping the flow – no matter how humble the task, we should strive to do it to the best of our ability FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.
Solzhenitzin once commented that there had been a time, a few hundred years ago, when the only legitimate ambition for a Russian was considered to be a devout life, a life of prayer. Perhaps, that is at last paying off. They seem to be Christianity’s standard bearers today, and its said that there was a prophecy that they would indeed lead the way.
I’ve only once encountered what struck me as sloth in a person, and it is an unattractive failing/vice. I should perhaps end here by saying that, whatever their motivation, I have found that, by and large, professional people tend to be sedulously conscientious in their work, investing the term, itself, with a curiously apt force. I suspect self-esteem and nurture within the family by the parents who may perhaps themselves work in professions, may play a role.
Thanks. I know you also to be sincere and decent. I also believe BA77 to be a sincere and decent person, but prone to misinterpreting evidence and jumping to conclusions about other people. But enough of personal matters.
Way off topic – but what would system would you recommend for allocating medical resources if you reject Quality of Life Years?
I also believe BA77 to be a sincere and decent person, but prone to misinterpreting evidence and jumping to conclusions about other people.
Says the man who misinterpreted the ‘Born Alive’ evidence presented to him against Obama, doubled down and restated his position when shown to be wrong, shown to to wrong again when he doubled down, and has yet to offer a sincere apology for such arrogance as for a Brit to tell an American who has lived through the ordeal that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. No MF, my ‘jump to a conclusion’ about you is panning out pretty well? Do you want to apologize for me again for your ‘appearance of arrogance’ 🙂
But then again, for someone without any true moral basis, I guess arrogantly apologizing for other people because they are wrongly perceiving you to have the flaw of arrogance is par for the course since of course you are not arrogant.,, But wait, does not the nature of the apology prove the point of arrogance in the first place? Welcome to the insane reasoning of atheists folks!
Atheism Cannot Ground Morality or Science:
Pro-Life: It’s About Love
Oh Goody, an another atheist who does not believe the Bible quoting the Bible to a Christian:
2 Peter 3:16
,,,Therein are some things hard to understand, which those who are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.
I don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, and I certainly don’t agree with all of it, but there’s some good stuff in it.
I don’t think incompleteness is a fault in this environment. Obviously a post should make clear what the argument is, and outline the evidence, but no post can address every aspect of an argument. Different readers have different background knowledge and therefore need detail in different areas. To try and address all of them often leads to something which is hard to digest and still fails to provide the missing detail – it is just harder to work out what is missing. It is one of the advantages of on-line discussion that you can make your case in a concise fashion and then provide additional detail in the course of debate as required (provided the debate stays cool and rational!).
Interest is a matter of degree. Clearly if I thought the post to be of earth shattering importance I would gladly spend an hour on it. If, glancing at the title, I thought it utterly trivial (unlikely from VJ) I would ignore it whatever its length. One advantage of a summary is that allows you to quickly determine how interesting the post is.
keiths, not that I really hold much hope that you will believe my following testimony, but to show you that the view you have scripture and the view I have of scripture are two totally different views of scripture, let me relate it to you anyways:
a few related notes:
This is a lighthearted article from Reader’s Digest that had this gem in it;
This ‘small’ miracle took years to see it come to pass;
I am sorry you have had such a rotten life and I am delighted that your faith has helped you deal with it.
Of related note:
(GodWinks) SQuire Rushnell & daughter of Emmett Kelly on FOX & FRDS 6/16/13
The provision in the Treaty of Tripoli is unique because, I suspect, the United States seldom has reason to expressly assure foreign nations that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” As you note, though, the United States had political and pragmatic reasons to provide just that assurance in the Treaty of Tripoli. I address the import of the treaty at #5 (which so far has so stunned or bored everyone into silence).
You seem to suppose that the fact that the United States had its reasons making that declaration somehow justifies discounting it. Why or how that would follow is not explained.
You also suggest discounting the Treaty of Tripoli as an “anomaly,” apparently because the United States signed other treaties during that same era “in which God was honored as Trinity.” That hardly follows either. The provision in the Treaty of Tripoli is a substantive provision in the body of the treaty intentionally placed there for a purpose. That the United States had but one occasion to make that declaration is no reason to disregard it. The other provisions to which you refer do not somehow contradict or supersede the provision in the Treaty of Tripoli. They are merely clauses appearing in preambles preceding the substantive provisions of several treaties; such clauses customarily at the time were left to the discretion of the nation drafting the treaty. The United States signed several treaties drafted by other nations that included such customary preambles. In no instance did the United States draft a treaty containing such a preamble. In any event, the presence of those customary preambles means little if anything, and it certainly does not somehow render the substantive provision in the Treaty of Tripoli anomalous.
There are three, not two, kinds of potential relationships between the church and the state. At one extreme, we have the “union” of church and state. It represents exactly what it implies. The church and state are one, manifested as a kind of religious theocracy. At the other extreme, we have the radical “separation” of church and state. This is the situation where the church has no influence whatsoever on the state. It is held together by the secularist ethic. The ideal formula, as understood and established by the Founding Fathers, is the “intersection” of church and state. Under this more reasonable form of government, each has its own sphere of influence–the church exerts is proper influence on the state and the state exerts its proper function in the service of the people.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to rewrite history and make it appear that that the founders wanted a radical separation in the form of secularism, which is clearly not the case. VJ has provided more than enough evidence to support that point, but the Declaration of Independence summarizes the point quite nicely with the words “The laws of nature, and natures’ God.” What they were referring to, of course, is God’s natural moral law, which is the same Natural Moral Law alluded to in the Christian Scriptures. All the institutions were designed with the understanding that God confers inherent dignity on every human being. That ethic is exclusively Christian and comes straight from the New Testament. That is why we have “due process.” Even such notions of “consent by the governed,” was inspired by the Old Testament book of Judges. These and other considerations make it clear that the original intent was to make sure that both the church and the state intersect.
While not all of the founding father believed in the Christian God, it is clear that this is the vision that shaped their political vision. I invite anyone to read the relevant documents. They will learn that secularists have misresented the facts. Even to this day, all 50 state constitutions contain references to God. Earlier versions even contained references to the Trinitarian God. Whenever someone did use the word “separate” in correspondence, they were referring either to the exemption that the church has from state intrusion or the need to avoid hegemonic control by one sectarian religion over all others. The one thing they did not want to do is separate God from government. Alas, that what finally happened, which is one of the reasons why the Western world is crumbling.
Positing three categories of potential relationships between church and state—“union” or “separation” at the extremes and “intersection” somewhere in the middle—and asserting that the founders wanted the latter oversimplifies and confuses matters, I think.
You posit a notion of separation of church and state—“the situation where the church has no influence whatsoever on the state”—that few have ever advocated, in the founders’ day or today. It is a straw man. It certainly bears little resemblance to the constitutional separation of church and state, which does not prevent citizens from making decisions based on principles derived from their religions. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The constitutional separation of church and state, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect.
Confusion understandably arises because the constitutional principle is sometimes equated with a widely supported political doctrine that goes by the same name and generally calls for political dialogue to be conducted on grounds other than religion. Even that political doctrine is generally not expressed in the extreme terms you posit. The underlying reasons for that political doctrine are many, but three primary ones are that (1) it facilitates discussion amongst people of all beliefs by predicating discussion on grounds accessible to all and (2) it avoids, in some measure at least, putting our respective religious beliefs directly “in play” in the political arena, so we’re not put in the position of directly disputing or criticizing each other’s religious beliefs in order to address a political issue and (3) since the government cannot make laws or decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion, it makes little sense to urge the government to do just that. This political doctrine, of course, is not “law” (unlike the constitutional separation of church and state, which is), but rather is a societal norm concerning how we can best conduct political dialogue in a religiously diverse society. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the doctrine is a good idea or not and whether or how it should influence us in particular circumstances.
As for whether the constitutional wall of separation should be high and impregnable, Madison touched on just this point in his Detached Memoranda. He not only stated plainly his understanding that the Constitution prohibits the government from promoting religion by such acts as appointing chaplains for the houses of Congress and the army and navy or by issuing proclamations recommending thanksgiving, he also addressed the question of what to make of the government’s actions doing just that. Ever practical, he answered not with a demand these actions inconsistent with the Constitution be undone, but rather with an explanation to circumscribe their ill effect: “Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex [i.e., the law does not concern itself with trifles]: or to class it cum maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura [i.e., faults proceeding either from negligence or from the imperfection of our nature].” Basically, he recognized that because too many people might be upset by reversing these actions, it would be politically difficult and perhaps infeasible to do so in order to adhere to the constitutional principle, and thus he proposed giving these particular missteps a pass, while at the same time assuring they are not regarded as legitimate precedent of what the Constitution means, so they do not influence future actions.
In its jurisprudence, the Supreme Court has, in effect, followed Madison’s advice, though not his suggested legal theories. The Court has confirmed the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state, while also giving a pass to the appointment of chaplains for the house of Congress and army and navy and the issuance of religious proclamations, as well as various governmental statements or actions about religion on one or another theory, e.g., ceremonial deism. Notwithstanding sometimes lofty rhetoric by courts and commentators about an impenetrable wall of separation, as maintained by the courts, that wall is low and leaky enough to allow various connections between government and religion. It hardly resembles the separation you describe in your comment. Indeed, the exceptions and nuances recognized by the courts can confuse laymen and lawyers alike, occasionally prompting some to question the principle itself, since decisions in various cases may seem contradictory (e.g., depending on the circumstances, sometimes government display of the 10 commandments is okay and sometimes not).
Thanks very much for the useful historical information – especially about the Treaty of Tripoli and the references to God in State Constitutions.
Thank you for your lengthy response. Regarding the legal status of the Declaration of Independence, I note (from perusing the Web) that:
(a) the Declaration of Independence gives the official reasons for declaring America’s declaring independence, and it has the legal effect of severing ties with Great Britain and declaring a new government;
(b) President Lincoln, arguing that states could not secede, argued that the Declaration of Independence was one in a series of legal acts establishing a legal framework for the new nation (see his July 4, 1861 Message to Congress in Special Session);
(c) John Hancock (in his capacity as president of the Second Continental Congress) and James Madison both considered it to be, in Madison’s words, “the fundamental Act of Union of these States”;
(d) Congress placed it at the head of the United States Code, under the caption, “The Organic Laws of the United States of America”;
(e) the Supreme Court has on at least some occasions accorded the Declaration binding legal force, for example, in resolving questions of alienage (Inglis v. Trustees of Sailor’s Snug Harbour, 1830);
(f) the Supreme Court treated the Declaration of Independence as a legal document marking the creation of the United States, e.g. in Shanks v. Dupont, 28 U.S. 242 (1830);
(g) Supreme Court opinions have appealed to the Declaration of Independence to support various legal claims, from the content of due process to the nature of the right to a jury trial. In fact, there’s an article outlining the use of the Declaration by Charles H. Cosgrove, in the 1998 University of Richmond Law Review.
I’m glad to see that we are in partial agreement. You wrote:
As to the issue you raise, of whether “Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government,” the view I’m arguing for is that since the Founding Fathers all viewed rights as God-given and religion as fundamental to public morality, theism is certainly presupposed by America’s legal system, even if it is rarely articulated today – although a few features, such as the oath of office, are still explicitly theistic. As for Christianity, I am not arguing that the laws of the land should designate any one religion as having a privileged status. But as Stephen B has pointed out, it was Christianity which inspired the Founding Fathers’ thinking that rights are God-given. I hope that helps clarify our differences. Thanks for your contribution.
Hi Mark Frank,
I’ve finally attached an executive summary at the front of this post.
Re your query in #75 as to who should get scarce medical resources first: that’s a tough one. I think I’d answer like this: babies at the very top of the list; then children (defined broadly as anyone under 21) and mothers of young children; and then the rest of us on a needs-based basis – and in order to prioritize claims among the needy, I’d say first-come-first-served sounds fairest. But I’d happily allow that any method of allocating scarce resources is imperfect, including mine.
I am afraid I must take strong exception to your account of why the US government was established. The predominant purpose was certainly not to establish a secular government with non-religious overtones. It certainly would not have made much sense for all those men to pray publicly for guidance and strength if religion was to play no role.
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington counseled his troops with messages like this one: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, freeman or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own …. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army …. Let us therefore rely on the goodness of the cause and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”
In his first Inaugural Address, he said this:
“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe – who presides in the council of nations – and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.”
The overall principle was expressed as the idea that the natural moral law (The Laws of Nature and nature’s God) should inform the civil law. To reinforce that idea, school children were formed according to Blackstone’s commentaries. A typical passage reads like this:
“MAN, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being”. …..”And consequently as man depends absolutely upon his maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will.
Or again,…”THIS will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; for, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.”
You will notice how this kind of Christian training in government schools reinforced the same principles found in the Declaration of Independence. The last thing these men worried about was the happy problem that United States citizens would be steeped in too much Christianity. Indeed, Blackstone’s commentaries did not simply constitute religious and moral training per se. They were the mainstream educational textbooks being used to edify young skulls full of mush so that they would become educated citizens with a sense of moral responsibility. That is why their education level surpassed current US standards by about six grade levels. Alas, we will never return to those days because we have committed cultural suicide by dumbing down our citizens and destroying the middle class for the sake of the ruling elite.
(A quick note: Any graduate student who is burdened with an inordinate sense of self esteem ought to go back and take one of those early tests necessary to graduate from the eighth grade. If he does so, he will soon learn humility, and, duly awakened from his dogmatic slumber, will be prompted to go back and receive a real education.)
Thanks. As you have gone to the effort I will certainly respond but even the summary needs a little thought.
Have had a chance to think!
It is interesting but I can only find one thing that you have written that contradicts anything in the advertisement. They write John Adams did not believe in miracles. You correct them – although he rejected Catholic miracles he did believe in Christ’s miracles.
What I find interesting is that only one of them believed in the divinity of Christ – George Washington. An independent minded lot.
Sir Isaac Newton did not accept the divinity of Jesus. Yet he was religious…
Re this, from your #81, MF:
‘I don’t think incompleteness is a fault in this environment. Obviously a post should make clear what the Your initial plea that it would take to many hours to do argument is, and outline the evidence, but no post can address every aspect of an argument. Different readers have different background knowledge and therefore need detail in different areas. To try and address all of them often leads to something which is hard to digest and still fails to provide the missing detail – it is just harder to work out what is missing. It is one of the advantages of on-line discussion that you can make your case in a concise fashion and then provide additional detail in the course of debate as required (provided the debate stays cool and rational!).’
So you’ve come round to my way of thinking, as expressed in #10, and in fact, expressed the matter very well.
There is a world of difference between reading a summary and scanning a long document – otherwise why would we ever need summaries. I don’t know about you but if I scan a document I am still only guessing what are the key points. Also I know from past experience that any comment based on partially reading a post will sooner or later lead to a rebuke that I didn’t read/understand the post.
No, I think it’s normal to assess the key points, and make the necessary adjustments ‘on the hoof’, but yes, scanning, as you say, is anything but a safe exercise, although I would not see a blog or forum as a milieu where it could lead to a major problem.
Pedants do exist, and can generate many more words than are required; though that is not to say that ‘length’ is, ipso facto, ‘longueur’ in this context.
An essentially learned scientific board, such as this one, often, of course, benefits from the former, but is also likely to be more prey than most to the latter.