Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ronald Reagan, The "Year of the Bible" and Congressional Backing of "the Word of God"

More "Founding Documents" of
the Imagined Community?


Christian conservatism has, in recent years, evolved to become an ardent supporter of the "Christian Nation" thesis. Ever since the emergence of leaders like Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and others, Christian conservatism has effectively fused the sacred and secular arenas together, all of which has, for the believer, added to the legitimacy of the "Christian Nation" argument.

And the MESSIAH of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan, was apparently a devout believer in the Christian Nation as well. In 1983, President Reagan drafted an official proclamation (Proclamation 5018), which sought to officially make that year (1983) the "Year of the Bible." The presidential proposition reads:

Of the many influences that have shaped the United States of America into a distinctive Nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.

Deep religious beliefs stemming from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land. These shared beliefs helped forge a sense of common purpose among the widely dispersed colonies -- a sense of community which laid the foundation for the spirit of nationhood that was to develop in later decades.

The Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Fathers' abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual, rights which they found implicit in the Bible's teachings of the inherent worth and dignity of each individual. This same sense of man patterned the convictions of those who framed the English system of law inherited by our own Nation, as well as the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

For centuries the Bible's emphasis on compassion and love for our neighbor has inspired institutional and governmental expressions of benevolent outreach such as private charity, the establishment of schools and hospitals, and the abolition of slavery.

Many of our greatest national leaders -- among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson -- have recognized the influence of the Bible on our country's development. The plainspoken Andrew Jackson referred to the Bible as no less than "the rock on which our Republic rests.'' Today our beloved America and, indeed, the world, is facing a decade of enormous challenge. As a people we may well be tested as we have seldom, if ever, been tested before. We will need resources of spirit even more than resources of technology, education, and armaments. There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called "the best gift God has ever given to man . . . But for it we could not know right from wrong.''

The Congress of the United States, in recognition of the unique contribution of the Bible in shaping the history and character of this Nation, and so many of its citizens, has by Senate Joint Resolution 165 authorized and requested the President to designate the year 1983 as the "Year of the Bible.''

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, in recognition of the contributions and influence of the Bible on our Republic and our people, do hereby proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible in the United States. I encourage all citizens, each in his or her own way, to reexamine and rediscover its priceless and timeless message.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of February, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and seventh.

Ronald Reagan
In conjunction with Reagan's signing of this proclamation, Congress drafted the following resolution (which predated the one above) acknowledging the Bible as "the Word of God." It reads:

97th Congress Joint Resolution

[S.J.Res. 165] 96 Stat. 1211
Public Law 97-280 - October 4, 1982

Joint Resolution authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim 1983 as the “Year of the Bible.”

Whereas the Bible, the Word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;

Whereas deeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our Nation;

Whereas Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States;

Whereas many of our great national leaders—among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson—paid tribute to the surpassing influence of the Bible in our country's development, as the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”;

Whereas the history of our Nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families, and societies;

Whereas this Nation now faces great challenges that will test this Nation as it has never been tested before; and

Whereas that renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Approved October 4, 1982.
So what do you all think? Are you/were you disturbed or delighted by the president and congress creating such an ultra-Christian proclamation?

27 comments:

Magpie Mason said...

What is the definition of "ultra-Christian," and why would either of these proclamations be labeled such? I don't see mention of Christ in either, except for the former's use of "in the year of our Lord."

Cordially,
Jay

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think Congress should declare the Bible "the Word of God." That's a bridge too far, taking sides on a sectarian issue, which is the proper understanding of what the First Amendment was designed to combat.

Funny, though, the Democrats controlled the House in 1982, and passed the resolution. My, how things have changed.

The rest I personally find uncontroversial, or at least in accord with America's self-conception throughout its history. Indeed much the same sentiment was expressed by Democrat Harry Truman in 1950, and one suspects it was uncontroversial and acceptable to both parties a mere 60 years ago:

"I don't think we put enough stress on the necessity of implanting in the child's mind the moral code under which we live.

The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days.

If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state."

Indeed, things sure have changed.

Brad Hart said...

Magpie Mason writes:

***"What is the definition of "ultra-Christian," and why would either of these proclamations be labeled such? I don't see mention of Christ in either."***

I think we can infer that their invokation of the Bible is equivalent to mentioning Christ...sort of like if they had mentioned the Qur'an we could logically infer Islam...something like that.

Tom:

I agree. Calling the Bible the "Word of God" seems out of line. And anyone who disagrees, just ask yourself this question: what if they had done this for the Qur'an, Book of Mormon, Upanishads, etc.?

Magpie Mason said...

Brad Hart writes:

***I think we can infer that their invocation of the Bible is equivalent to mentioning Christ...sort of like if they had mentioned the Qur'an we could logically infer Islam...something like that.***

Perhaps, but "ultra-Christian?" It's a term that drips prejudice, phobia and panic. Is there a better term?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, of course there were no Mormons yet at the time of the Founding, and I'm afraid I object to the current We Are the World sentiment that Muslims and Hindus [or atheists, but that's a different discussion] have any connection with the Founding principles. For the simple reason that there weren't any around.

Although some Founders mention those religions in the abstract, there's no evidence they had any genuine understanding of them.

But how about Jews? There were definitely Jews in America at the Founding. "The Bible," not only to Christians, but even in the understanding of someone from another culture [or from Mars!], in common usage includes the New Testament.

Therefore, the federal government has no more business telling Jews the New Testament is the "word of God," than it would telling orthodox Christian that "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" is the word of God.

[Although as a proponent of federalism, I'd have to say the state of Utah would have that right. Hehe.]

Brad Hart said...

Magpie:

I don't see how the term "ultra-Christian" drips of panic, etc. After all, isn't the Bible an "ultra-Christian" book?

bpabbott said...

Tom wrote: "The fundamental basis of this Nation's law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days."

Tom, there is no necessity for Judeo-Christian religion to support our Nation's law ... including the Bill of Rights. In the absence of the Bible, I'm able to appreciate the value of liberty.

Regarding the Bill of Rights, it would be of interest if the founders argued from "Exodus and St. Matthew". I am unware of such examples, but would be very interested in a correction of my knowledge. Did such occur in the debates of the first amendment?

In any event, I don't claim that Christian theology didn't enfluence and/or inspire the founders. Only that the the examples mentioned were "self-evident", and required no support of scripture.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In any event, I don't claim that Christian theology didn't enfluence and/or inspire the founders. Only that the the examples mentioned were "self-evident", and required no support of scripture.Well, Ben, there's a difference between the Bible and Christian theology, theology being reason applied to scripture.

Christianity "grew," "evolved," mostly without help form the Enlightenment, and well before there even was an Enlightenment era.

Unfortunately, we miss that distinction almost all the time around here, locked in battles between Biblical fundamentalism and 21st century reason.

The discussion is often crude, no, um, "nuanced," faith versus not quite reason, but non-religious emotion, passion.

Because Christian theology is quite reasonable--it's reasonable by definition---as in John Locke's The Reasonableness of Christianity."

We must compare and contrast the American and French revolutions to see the difference between man-and-God versus man on his own.

I reckon you noticed that I was quoting Harry Truman, not myself, on the Matthew and St. Anselm stuff. I'm not prepared to defend Truman's assertion, as I haven't studied it; my point was per the context of Brad's original post--- that what Reagan signed [did he indeed draft it? doubtful] was totally consistent with what Democrat Harry Truman said in 1950, presumably uncontroversial with both parties.

And that things have changed, at least for the moment...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Although some Founders mention those religions in the abstract, there's no evidence they had any genuine understanding of them.This is something I might want to explore a little more in the future. I see you and Kristo trying to downplay those abstract sentiments which I think were a very important part of their vision for religious equality. And in fact directly led to America eventually being a place where all would be welcomed and treated as equal citizens regardless of their status as "Christians." Which again is another reason why America was not founded to be a "Christian" Nation but a nation of religious liberty and equality.

Pinky said...

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"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
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We're still working on it.
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We have different ideas of what it means to be perfect.
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Pinky said...

A More Perfect Union....
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????

Tom Van Dyke said...

Which again is another reason why America was not founded to be a "Christian" Nation but a nation of religious liberty and equality...

Why not both? There's no reason to create a dichotomy.

But it depends on what "Christian nation" means anyway. To narrow the term to mean "theocracy" is to argue against a claim even the Dominionists don't make.

bpabbott said...

Tom wrote: "Which again is another reason why America was not founded to be a "Christian" Nation but a nation of religious liberty and equality..."

Tom, your comment appears (to me) to be a contradiction. Whether the claim is our Nation was founded to be politicaly and/or culturaly a "Christian" nation, how can either qualify as a Nation founded on religious liberty and equality?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Which again is another reason why America was not founded to be a "Christian" Nation but a nation of religious liberty and equality.....


Well, Ben, Jon actually wrote that quote; I replied it's an unnecessary either/or dichotomy.

My response stands on its own, and should be answered on those [admittedly] sophistic terms. As you specialize in deconstructing the form of an argument rather than its content, I think you should play by your own rules and standards.

The burden of proof is now on you to argue why establishment threatened religious liberty.

Then you need to argue your notion of "equality." After all, George Washington was called "first among equals," and he threatened nobody's liberty.

But not to be disingenuous and pretend I don't know what you're talking about, I'll add that American pluralism answers your challenge.

But if you want to actually participate in these discussions, you need to add affirmative counterargument to your admittedly clever challenges of other people's statements.

I look forward to that day.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

There is no equality between what is favored and what is not. Thus, I'm at a loss to understand how your response stands on its own, unless you intended to imply that your arguemnt is sophistic, in which case any further discussion is moot.

As to why establishment threatens religious liberty, are you asking for a defence of the establishment clause?

Tom Van Dyke said...

There is no equality between what is favored and what is not.Not at all, Ben, under pluralism. The normative need not be the enemy of the new, in an "open-minded" society.

"Normative" is a righteous philosophical term, describing not only the prevailing belief, but what justified that belief in the first place. Both genesis and praxis.

We need not throw the normative out to continue to be open to the new. That would be cementheadedness.

[I used "sophistic" here nonpejoratively---concentrating on the formality of the argument and not its underlying content. That's your style, Ben, and in reading you, I've learned to admit when I'm doing it too. Sometimes it's proper to examine the form of the argument, although to limit oneself to that is, well, sophistic as opposed to philosophical.]

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Not at all, Ben, under pluralism. The normative need not be the enemy of the new, in an "open-minded" society."

Ok. I understand your point. I was (again) focused on a political understanding of "Christian Nation".

Anonymous said...

I believe it was a good idea. After all, the U.S. was founded on Christian-Judeo principles. I might also add that 1990 was proclaimed the International Year of Bible Reading by President George H.W. Bush. That was a good idea, too.

Phil Johnson said...

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That was a good idea, too.
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O Kaaaayuh
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As long as we're going off on tangents, I think I'll ask a question of someone who might have a reasonable answer.
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Tom, If the national debt ceiling is not raised, will the interest rate our government pays on the debt be increased?
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bpabbott said...

Phil,

Interest rates won't go up until we see inflation.

Given the current economic situation, I don't expect to see inflation any time soon.

Phil Johnson said...

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Interest rates won't go up until we see inflation.
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I meant what will happen to the interest our government pays on the national debt notes. Will that rate go up? And, if it does, how will that impact the profits for those forces that hold the notes?
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If America is seen as a higher risk, it makes sense that those who purchase our debt stand to make more profits. I don't think people like you and me are buying those notes. They are most likely issued in amounts of a hundred thousand dollars or more. Right?
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bpabbott said...

Phil,

My understanding is that the rate of interest on the "notes" you refer to are set at the time of purchase.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Treasury_security

Quantitative easing has reduced the interest rates to the point they are essentially zero.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Federal_Funds_Rate_1954_thru_2009_effective.svg

I've been wondering to what degree low interest rates have enabled speculator of oil, food, and equities (hence increases in the prices of oil, food, and equities?).

I doubt we'll see rates above 2% until the economy begins to pick up steam, but it does appear the Fed is going to raise interest rates.

http://www.nationaljournal.com/economy/fed-lays-out-exit-strategy-roadmap-20110713

Phil Johnson said...

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My understanding is that the rate of interest on the "notes" you refer to are set at the time of purchase.
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So, then, it could appear as though a strategy is in place to cause America's credit rating to be reduced from Triple A to some lower rating which would cause a rise in the interest rate America would be forced to pay on all future bond sales. Correct?
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If that's the case, it's just one more example of how America gets messed over by the super wealthy.
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Those friggan Republicans are a sly lot.
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bpabbott said...

Phil: "[...] it could appear as though a strategy is in place to cause America's credit rating to be reduced from Triple A to some lower rating which would cause a rise in the interest rate America would be forced to pay on all future bond sales. Correct?"

I don't think there is any nefarious happening. The government sells securities with a rate of return that it chooses. If the rate of return is too low then there are no buyers.

Regarding being "messed up", there hasn't been a better time to borrow than now. Unfortunately, the debt ceiling prevents borrowing.

Of course, even if the interest rate were zero, we still will need to pay the money back. So, we better be prepared to be smart about how the money is to be spent.

Phil Johnson said...

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If the rate of return is too low then there are no buyers.
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Exactly my point.
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We're so into the trees we can't see the forest.
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I cannot for one minute think any billionaire wouldn't stoop to such a strategy. Why would anyone want more if they already had billions? I wouldn't trust super wealthies like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch even if I had a signed and notarized contract with them. With their money, they can get anything they want and pronto no questions asked. They seem to enjoy the act of being nefarious--of screwing over everyone within their view as long as it serves their purposes.
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bpabbott said...

Ok. I see what you're getting at.

I'm either naive or not so cynical ... but I try to avoid both.

Phil Johnson said...

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I'm either naive or not so cynical ... but I try to avoid both.
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I'm also working on that. But, being critical of the goings on in society doesn't necessarily include cynicism. In fact it is what critical social theory is mostly about.
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Otherwise everything is left up for grabs.
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