Friday, January 1, 2010

Dependence on God: An American Tradition

In his First Inaugural Address, President George Washington offered his "fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect."

In virtually the same breath, Washington declared: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."

Debates over the role of religion in America's founding often turn on the extremes, with some saying that the Founding Fathers were mostly "Deists" or "free thinkers" (code for non-believers) and others insisting that all the Founders were Bible-thumping, evangelical Christians!

The debate has become so contentious (and, at times, so comical) that obvious truths are overlooked in the battle over particulars. For example, Washington dedicates a large portion of his First Inaugural to his faith in God and his call on Americans to embrace God. Yet, many today would rather argue over whether he said "so help me God" after taking the oath of office on the Bible! This overlooks the fact that a huge chunk of Washington's speech eloquently and emphatically expressed his request for God's help!

It becomes very difficult to establish consensus in such a climate. Difficult, but not impossible. Because regardless of where one stands on the specific faith of the Founding Fathers or the role religion should play in society today, there is one consistent and unmistakable theme in American history: From the colonial period through today, the people of the United States have embraced belief in God and expressed their dependence on Him.

**Side Note: While it may offend some (particularly those given to "political correctness"), I will use the male pronoun to refer to God, since that is how God is revealed and described in the Judeo-Christian tradition.**

Challenging the reality of this theme is an exercise in futility. While a few Americans consider themselves atheist or agnostic, these schools of thought have never dominated nor defined the United States. They are, to put it mildly, in the minority. Most Americans believe in God and (according to several polls) prefer that their elected leaders do so as well.

At this point in the discussion, those frustrated by these realities point to the First Amendment's establishment clause or the constitutional prohibition against religious tests. This misses the point. It's true that the U.S. Constitution bars religious tests for elected officials (a provision initially applied only to the federal government and later extended to the states as well). It's also true that the U.S. Constitution forbids an "establishment" of religion.

This, however, says nothing about the desires of the American public. If the American people desire a war veteran for a President, that is their perogative. If they want only a President who is left-handed, that is also their right. An individual voter has the unqualified right to vote for whomever he or she pleases, based on whatever criteria he or she sets. That's the heart of democracy. Lose that, and you're in serious trouble!

It just so happens that a majority of American voters want their President to possess faith. They want a President who prays and who depends on a Power greater than himself or herself. Why? Because it cuts to the very fabric of America itself! The people of the United States, throughout their history, have held that kind of faith in and reliance on God.

Americans are gratified to read of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who once said: "Do you think I could have fought my way through [World War II], ordered thousands of fellows to their deaths, if I couldn't have got down on my knees and talked to God?" They like to hear that, because most of them would agree with Eisenhower's next words: "I couldn't live a day of my life without God."

Most Americans want to believe that General Washington knelt in the snow at Valley Forge and asked God for wisdom. That's why the painting of him kneeling in prayer next to his horse is so popular. The idea that one of our nation's greatest (if not THE greatest) heroes humbled himself before a Higher Power is, well, downright inspiring! At least it is for a majority of Americans - those who haven't given themselves over to atheism, agnosticism, or cynicism.

Predictably, there are those who challenge the authenticity of the painting. And they usually do so on the particulars - i.e., the fact that Washington rarely if ever prayed on his knees and the questionable nature of the eyewitness testimony that stands behind the Valley Forge prayer tradition. Once again, they lose sight of the forest for the trees! This is like debating the authenticity of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River, because he probably didn't stand in the boat! The real question is...Was George Washington a man of prayer? And if he was, is it not likely that he prayed at Valley Forge? Show me a respectable historian who would challenge Washington's belief in Providence or his recognition of the value of prayer! You can't! And, for that reason, that painting of Washington kneeling in prayer is as authentic as it needs to be, and it's staying on my wall!

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with people analyzing paintings. I have no problem with discussing the particulars of American history, uncovering new insights, exposing myths and legends, and the like. That's all good. But I do have a problem with losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Not all Americans are "Christian" and not all the Founders were "Christian," but the tradition of our faith in God and dependence on Him is deeply American. It's a rich part of our nation's heritage and history, and if we ever lose that, we will lose something very precious.

47 comments:

Jonathan Rowe said...

Good post.

As a matter of personal political preference I'd rather government not, speaking as "we" invoke a monotheistic God because that may offend the consciences of atheists, agnostics, and polytheists.

However, that's just my preference. You can't read the Providential monotheism out of the American Founding.

Brad Hart said...

Good post, Brian and it's good to see you again. I always enjoy your material.

I think this is an excellent overall summation of what Benjamin Franklin called America's "Public Religion." It may be Christian (of whatever flavor), Jewish, Muslim, faith in the flying spaghetti monster, etc. But the overall fact is that America is a RELIGIOUS nation. Sure, I'll disagree with Barton's take on what his definition of the "Christian Nation" implies just as I will disagree with Zinn's beliefs in American secularism, but the fact remains that America was and is a religious nation. Or as Ike put it:

"Our Government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is." ~President Eisenhower, New York Times, Dec 23 1952

King of Ireland said...

Well put.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Religion is useful to protect a free society from becoming Statist in its views toward religious persons....as it also protects Jonathan's concern for the atheists, agnostic and polytheists. The State cannot speak absolutely concerning religion, no matter what kind...

Jonathan has a good point as far as a political position, which means that political science, as well as any science is void or silent concerning faith issues. This is why science does not address all that "is"...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Law is to be objective and disregarding concerning religion, but considerate of religious persons...

Brian Tubbs said...

Thanks everyone for the feedback. The last few months have been very busy for me, esp with a job change and move from Ohio back to the DC area. I hope to post more now that we're getting settled.

Tom Van Dyke said...


As a matter of personal political preference I'd rather government not, speaking as "we" invoke a monotheistic God because that may offend the consciences of atheists, agnostics, and polytheists.

However, that's just my preference. You can't read the Providential monotheism out of the American Founding.


America has always made room for conscientious objectors, but to accommodate the skepticism [or disparate beliefs] of the minority is to dissolve any idea of a culture or ethos.

We become nothing but soulless machines of flesh. Angie has it backwards, that the protection of the minority and the individual becomes the only definition of liberty.

Our lowest common denominator becomes not one, but zero.

That said, I certainly favor keeping things as general as possible. Jefferson didn't use "He," he used "it" for Providence in his inaugural:

"acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?"

and

"And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity."


There will always be a minority that disagrees with even that much. But to accommodate their sensibilities means we must dissolve what we are.

Perhaps that's a desirable thing, but clearly, even Mr. Separation didn't think so.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
I understand your point and it is well taken, but you must read "Becoming Evil", by John Waller, a social psychologist. He traces genocide,and other evils in society to "group mentalities". He charts how the "in group" isolates and ends up destroying the "outsider", etc. It is a must read, in my book.

So, while the minority does not speak for the majority, it must be heard, otherwise, we loose our sense of conscience, and value of "justice for all". It is a tension, that doesn't have to dissolve our ethos or culture. But, the majority rule was never the Founder's intent anyway....oligarchy, wasn't it?
Were the Founder's then, dissolving our ethos, no they promoted it through such statements, as Jefferson's...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I know the argument can go many ways, depending on what one wants to emphasize, but the "progress" we have made as a culture and nation has been "rights" granted to women, slaves, children, etc. Some may think that we are un-doing society's foundations when these social changes happen, as tradition is hard to "move forward". But, change will come nevertheless.

I don't believe that society should be run by those that think they have all the answers, or that bull-doze over their constiuency's desire, but should seek to serve by educating the populace about the dirty process of politics, so that the populace will not be disillusioned with government altogether.

I think that the healthcare legislation has brought many to the table that were in "other rooms", so that they can engage in the discussion, become informed and "care" about what their government is doing.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And BTW, under no circumstance should a group be able to discriminate against another concerning a job. Individuals choose what they want to do with their life in free societies, not some oligarchy....

Pinky said...

.
George Washington's comments reported in Brian's good article, seem to be almost verbatim out of Free Masonry.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom,
I understand your point and it is well taken, but you must read "Becoming Evil", by John Waller, a social psychologist. He traces genocide,and other evils in society to "group mentalities".



That was the beauty of American Protestantism, that there were so many sects.

And religion isn't the only "group mentality." Look at the slaughter of the French Revolution, Nazism, Communism. Even Native American tribes used to slaughter each other routinely, despite the myth that they were all noble savages.

The question isn't "group mentality," it's what kind of group mentality. America's ethos is pretty good, and is capable and desirous of the "progress" of which you speak. Destroy that ethos, and you've got nothing.

Ray Soller said...

Brian, I'm sorry I can't join in with the above chorus of "Well dones."

Let's start off with the particulars portrayed in the painting of George Washington's inauguration, which is displayed at the top of your post. Understandably, I can fathom your desire to steer away from the details, because you-know-who dwells in the details, but I'm very skeptical about your "forest for the trees" analogy.

First off, please provide the name of the artist and the date associated with the painting you chose as a starting point for your article. At the very least, it's the courteous thing to do.

After that, I would like to know is where did that supersized chair located near the center of the picture come from. It doesn't look at all like it could be the same chair used by Senate Secretary Samuel Otis. Ditto goes for that table and the mystical second chair. It doesn't look at all like the secretarial arrangement that was used by Otis.

Then there's Chancellor Livingston in his black robe, and Washington's left hand on his heart. Where did those two things come from? The best indications we have is that Livingston wore a black suit and Washington held his cocked hat down at his left side.

I know, I know, at this point many a reader is murmuring, "Soller doesn't get it. He just can't see for the 'forest for the trees.'"

What I do see is, as illustrated by the inaugural painting, and, as C. S. Morgan (1917) is quoted as saying, "we fill up the lowlands of our memories with the highlands of our imagination." (See Human Memory: The Processing of Information by Elizabeth F. Loftus, pg. 113, 1976.) Furthermore, for those who won't distinguish their imaginings from reality, and who prefer a world regulated by cognitive dissonance, I say, "Let reason prevail!."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

O.K., Ray, I anyone can understand your analogy of the "whole", but the problem with the "whole" is that we can't have "control" over how the system impacts the "parts"...the "unintended consequences"...so to speak...This is in biological systems and computor analysis...but human beings in a society are not to be treated a "programs", or "systems". That is my beef!

Tom, I understand that you are trying to continually affirm tradition or faith as needed, but SO is reason! Irrationality does nothing to men/women, except those that adhere to the same irrationality!

You always point out the "terror of reason" and the French Revolution. I have said this before, the Church and aristocracy were in bed together, that was the problem...and it led to the tragic results of bloodshed.

Bloodshed is sometime necessary to protect values we want to uphold or to provide for the change that is necessary. This is why our men in uniform do their service for our national interests abroad.

Liberals are those that push against the boundaries of provinciality, while the traditionalists push back to maintain social order and the status quo so that society can survive without change so drastic that it creates a backlash of revolt from the majority.

The Founding era had understood a different kind of ethos, in that God did not sanction the King's rule, although they affirmed the need for government to maintain the social order. Today, science again challenges the Chruch's claims, as Scripture is written in out-dated terms, and God is not even understood in personal terms, anymore...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, you completely overlook the Founders' suspicion of unassisted reason, that they knew it could be a slave to the passions and used to justify anything. And has been! [See above.]

Even the doctrinally skeptical John Adams wrote "Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company."*

You're making false dichotomies between reason and religion-as-superstition, and no, you can't blame the Reign of Terror on the Catholic Church. That is nonsense.

As for reason, it's no secret I'm an admirer of Thomas Aquinas, who applied the philosophical rigor of Aristotle to Christianity way back in the 1200s. Indeed, it was that rigor that [through his successors] teased out the natural law corollaries of rights and liberty from the Biblical ethos of the essential equality of mankind, something Aristotle could not do by reason alone.

I'm a big supporter of reason. Right reason.

_______________

*Interesting---It appears the famous New Atheist Richard Dawkins used a fragment of the Adams quote out of context in his book "The God Delusion."

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!"

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=101972

The full quote is:


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 in it!!!" 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.
-- John Adams, quoted from Charles Francis Adams, ed, Works of John Adams (1856), vol. X, p. 254

Dawkins is surely as influential as David Barton. Shall we start a Liars Against Jesus campaign?

Nah. Let us note it in passing, and move on.

Brad Hart said...

TVD writes:

The question isn't "group mentality," it's what kind of group mentality. America's ethos is pretty good, and is capable and desirous of the "progress" of which you speak. Destroy that ethos, and you've got nothing.

Exactly. Angie, you may be right that the minority voice shouldn't be overlooked but neither should the founding ethos of this country. Again, I will quote Pres. Ike:

"Our Government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is." ~President Eisenhower, New York Times, Dec 23 1952

Angie writes:

Tom, I understand that you are trying to continually affirm tradition or faith as needed, but SO is reason! Irrationality does nothing to men/women, except those that adhere to the same irrationality!

Since when were religion and reason opposing forces? Certainly the founders did not see them as such. They may have had bones to pick with particular faiths, pastors, etc. but they never shrugged off religion altogether. In fact, they saw religion as being essential (rational) for any republic's survival. Sure, they disagreed with particular points of doctrine (i.e. is the Bible perfect, is there a Trinity, was Mary really a virgin, etc.) but they never doubted those general (natural) principles of religion, which they saw as being very rational.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I can support the idea of endorsing the concept of right reason. However, I doubt whether Brian is trying to promote the application of right reason, where he states, "This [the barring of religious tests], however, says nothing about the desires of the American public. ... An individual voter has the unqualified right to vote for whomever he or she pleases, based on whatever criteria he or she sets. That's the heart of democracy. Lose that, and you're in serious trouble!"

That may be true, but as I see it, when you put together a voting block of individuals dominated by a mindless implementation of a non-constitutional principles that is not the heart of democracy. It is the recipe for mobocracy, and that spells "TROUBLE."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Exactly, Ray. The problem with "voting blocks" is that individual's within them, start to tout the view of the mob, without considering the issues themselves. That is the problem, because then, individuals aren't "free to choose" their own conscience, as their conscience hasn't even been developed. They only play the party line and vote the party line. That isn't thinking about the issues in depth, nor does it allow the individual diverse views on different issues..

Pinky said...

.
As far as I can understand what Brian wrote, Mr. Soller, he was spot on exactly.
.
Apparently you're twisting the words he wrote to say that he is saying the people can legally demand the government give a religious test. That's not what he wrote.
.
It is about as obvious as obvious can get that a large number of American voters DEMAND a religious test in order to make their voting choice. And, the press is only too happy to comply in digging up ever possible piece of information to show what the religious beliefs of any candidate might be.
.
I think you're beating a dead horse.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That may be true, but as I see it, when you put together a voting block of individuals dominated by a mindless implementation of a non-constitutional principles that is not the heart of democracy. It is the recipe for mobocracy, and that spells "TROUBLE."

Ray, sub rosa in your and Angie's argument is animus against the Religious Right. However, everything you write I would ascribe to Obamaism, leftism, secular humanism, collectivism, communitarianism, socialism, whatever you want to call it.

I say, so be it; factionalism is unavoidable, as the Founders discovered when Jefferson formed his own party. But I will not accuse those I politically disagree with of losing their individuality and good sense, of "mindless implementation of a non-constitutional principles."

That is dehumanization, that is demonization.

And I resist the legalistic arguments that insist religious conscience is out of place in our polity, that somehow the Constitution demands it be excluded. I also reject that the rights of a minority demand that we discard our culture and ethos for a pale "neutrality."

But neither do I argue that maintaining America's "Christian-y" ethos is demanded by the Constitution or our cultural history. If the 48 states that have "God" in their constitutions wish to take Him out, fine.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

WHERE did you get that I was referring to any ideological politicalized group, such as the Religious Right? I thought that my point was that the individual could be conservative in onr area, and liberal in another area, as they discover the issues and come to their understanding and convictions themselves...that has nothing to do with the Left OR Right!

Pinky said...

.
"...everything you write I would ascribe to Obamaism, leftism, secular humanism, collectivism, communitarianism, socialism, whatever you want to call it."
.
I like you, Tom, but you turn into one sick puppie when you put on that anti-liberal garb.
.
What's more, you show this site up for being biased in a hard way. Claiming a form of scholarship, you blow it.
.
And, I thought you people were open minded.

.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Pinky, I think I'm well on record as begging folks to leave contemporary politics out of the discussions here. But Ray's and Angie's subtext was quite clear to anyone with an IQ above room temperature, so instead of playing the disingenuousness game, I spoke directly to the elephant in the room.

The problem with "voting blocks" is that individual's within them, start to tout the view of the mob, without considering the issues themselves.

Angie, I have never seen you apply this criticism to anyone but on the religious right. You've written endlessly on the cementheads in the church you left.

Regardless, I think it's unhelpful and dehumanizing to describe anybody that way.

Instead of accusing me of bias, Phil, present some worthwhile counterarguments. I don't see how I could be more even-handed than writing

But neither do I argue that maintaining America's "Christian-y" ethos is demanded by the Constitution or our cultural history. If the 48 states that have "God" in their constitutions wish to take Him out, fine.

Pinky said...

.
I have never said that everything you write is anti-liberal trash; but, every once in a while, it is.
.
There is a strong bias here and it deals with who is and is not an acceptable scholar for reference. You pretty well put Shain and his authors off the table with some harsh rhetoric.
.
But, so what? That's the privilege of rank.
.
I'm not complaining--just observing.
.
From what I'm discovering, I don't think the men at the Constitution Convention really wanted to let everything hang out like it has developed over the years. I know some were quite concerned about a run-a-way democracy. It seems that's Angie's complaint.
.
But, it is a Democracy, after all.
.
Party politics seems to be the fly in the ointment much moreso than democracy.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I think party politics are inseparable from democracy, as the formation of Jefferson's second party proved.

As for Barry Shain, it was Jon who said he was a paleo-con and an advocate. I wrote that I haven't seen it in his work as a scholar of history. I've found him to be an excellent resource.

And yes, I do have harsh words for Kramnick and Moore, for the reasons given. However, their facts are certainly on the table, and are being argued for and against all over the blog right now.

Pinky said...

.
Party politics are guaranteed by the First Amendment in the freedom of association clause. They can be quite destructive of democratic rule.
.
Shain a paleocon? is that a joke?
.

Brad Hart said...

@ TVD, Pinky and Angie:

I think it's clear that this is a politically-charged issue. Separating the founding fathers from modern politics is often as hard as separating the wheat from the tares. It's inevitable that some of us will favor certain historians while others are disgusted with them. As for The Godless Constitution, I wouldn't completely throw it away but Tom's critique is somewhat sound. I do think, however, that it's appropriate for a person to first read the book before issuing their opinion to all. But still, the critiques he cites here are sound. Like I have said before, the books is an ok read. Nothing amazing, nothing horrible. Just ok.

As far as this blog's "bias," Pinky, we have tried very hard to assemble a diverse cast. Yes, Tom and others probably lean more to the right while others here go left. We are constantly on the lookout for new talent that is interested in signing up. In my opinion, this is American Creation's greatest strength. Too many blogs today pretend to represent "objectivity" and claim to be "all-encompassing." They are not. This blog, however, is. How do I know this? Because I have "locked horns" with almost every single person here. We've all had it out over the past 2 years and rarely if ever are in complete agreement. And as Lyndon Johnson stated, "If two people are ever in complete agreement on anything, you can rest assured that one is exercising dominion over the other."

Not here. Not with this cast. Hell, some (both right and left) have become so agitated over the diversity of opinions here that they chose to leave. And I for one say good riddance. If people think that democracy isn't a clash of ideas then they probably don't know what democracy is.

But please, if there are any out there (of whatever opinion) who have the desire, knowledge and time to invest in this blog then WE WANT YOU to join us.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As for The Godless Constitution, I wouldn't completely throw it away but Tom's critique is somewhat sound. I do think, however, that it's appropriate for a person to first read the book before issuing their opinion to all.

I'm not interested in reading all the polemics out there because there's a lot of work to be done on undiscovered and overlooked truth. However, the authors have designed their polemic as a handbook of arguments to be used by those who hold their POV.

Readers and adherents of The Godless Constitution are invited to use their provided ammo here and see how it holds up. I'd prefer we look for the whole truth, however, not just plugging manifestos.

Brad Hart said...

Well, I wouldn't call The Godless Constitution purely polemics. Yes, it does deserve criticism and I think what you have cited is appropriate. And I too would be interested in hearing what the fans of TGC have to say in its defense. Like I said before, I don't think we should throw the book to the dogs. It simply wasn't that bad. But at the same time, I think you are right that the book has become a "texbook" of sorts for the secularists. Hell, the title itself should be indicative of that fact.

Like I mentioned in my previous comment, it's too bad that this issue has become so damned politicized. I know people (I argue on Facebook with lots of them) who will insist that Glenn Beck's take or TGC's take is absolute, irrefutable fact, which becomes so aggravating at times that I often wonder of Susan Jacoby was right when she argued that we currently live in an "Age of American Unreason" (not that her book is any better than TGC).

Further proof that a blog like this is needed to safeguard reality and sift out the shit.

King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

I agree with Brad. The best thing about this blog is that people do not agree. It is why I like it. One can learn many angles of the same topic and decide for himself. Tom and I agree more than most on here but we still disagree. See our discussions on the whether theology should be discussed as much as it does.

One might think that Jon and I totally disagree. That is not the case. I think we agree on more than we disagree. It is on 2 or 3 issues we disagree. Those come out more because there has been a good back and forth on it.

Pinky said...

.
I'm not talking about agreement.
.
My point was totally regarding some of the closed minded comments that speak from some bank of predetermined knowledge that appears to be locked down and judged to be unassailable. .
There's not a lot of that; but, enough to show the bias.
.
I understand your point and say this is the best site of its type I've ever visited.

I only wish I had developed a better base of historical knowledge years ago.
.

Pinky said...

.
I'm not talking about agreement.
.
My point was totally regarding some of the closed minded comments that speak from some bank of predetermined knowledge that appears to be locked down and judged to be unassailable. .
There's not a lot of that; but, enough to show the bias.
.
I understand your point and say this is the best site of its type I've ever visited.

I only wish I had developed a better base of historical knowledge years ago.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Clarity is more important than agreement."---Dennis Prager

I think that's our motto around here. Cheers to all, and thank you for being you.

Love,
TVD

King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

The one thing Brad made clear when he invited me to contribute here was that I could post on about anything I want. I assure you that there are no biases here. Not site wide. If you are talking about individuals then yes I am sure all of us have them. I know I do. But that is all the more reason to have the intentional plurality of contributors here.

jimmiraybob said...

I really think that if the book (as opposed to the general thesis), The Godless Constitution, is to become central to the discussion then it should be read. It is not an anti-religion or anti-Christian screed. If you think so then it's only from loose scrutiny of the title.

Really. There are Christians that like both the thesis and the Book. From a review in

Christian Century*, August 14, 1996, by Edwin S. Gaustad, emeritus professor at the University of California in Riverside:

“THIS SMALL BOOK is readable, timely, argumentative, solidly informed and informative. Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore confess to being "polemical," or, as they gently put it, "we allow ourselves an editorial voice." But that voice, never strident, is informed by historical understanding and insight.

...

“’The creation of a godless constitution was not an act of irreverence,’ the authors point out. ‘It was an act of confidence in religion,’ allowing religion to make its contributions to democracy without ‘being tied to the fortunes of this or that political faction.’

...

“They speak and write in defense of the Jeffersonian wall that, on occasion, more resembles a leaky dike. All hands (and fingers) are welcome.”

----

And, from the 2005 version of The Godless Constitution: A Moral defense of the Secular State, p. 15:

"So let us [the authors] be clear as we can be at the outset. We are aware of the crucial role that religion played in America's revolutionary struggle, of the importance that many Constitution makers attached to it, and of the energy it gave to many American crusades for social justice."

And, let it be stated again here, that regardless of the passions then and now that wanted the Constitution to provide a clearly Christian foundation for the state and the nation, and those who at the time railed against the Godless Constitution (not the book, the actual Constitution), it just did not happen. The foundational document for civil government was and is, as seen from both sides at the time, a Godless document as it only makes a framework for the people of a new nation to govern themselves in the best form that could be cobbled together and generally agreed upon at the time. The constitution is as it is.

The state of the nation however, at least in terms of self identity, is now, as then, largely religious to some degree and largely of the Christian persuasion.

*About us

For decades, the Christian Century has informed and shaped progressive, mainline Christianity. Committed to "thinking critically and living faithfully," the magazine explores through argument and reflection what it means to believe and live out the Christian faith in our time. As a voice of "generous orthodoxy," the Century is both loyal to the church and open to the world.

PS Why is my captcha word "Crazi?" I sense a conspiracy :)

Pinky said...

.
I have no problems about it.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The book was retitled:

The Godless Constitution: A Moral defense of the Secular State


Italics mine.

Basically, I challenge the entire premise of the book as stated by its own title.

The question isn't whether America was Founded as a Christian nation.

Religion was left to the states, which by and large, already were Christian, and ratification didn't change that.

And I have no idea what they mean by invoking the word "moral." Samuel Adams said that Christianity itself required tolerance as early as 1772.

But JRB, defend the book's ideas all you want. I think Dreisbach and Fea [and meself] have poked major holes in its thesis.

I object to self-described "polemics" given any standing in a scholarly discussion at all. Leave that for the culture wars on other blogs, and for people only interested in "their" side of the story.

The only reason the book was brought up at all was because of yet another David Barton controversy. I'd prefer we leave as many 3rd parties out of the discussion as humanly possible. Leave the gun, take the canoli.

bpabbott said...

Tom,

Re: "Basically, I challenge the entire premise of the book as stated by its own title."

I'm uncertain as to what you meant to communicate. Are you challenging the book's content (after reading it), or what you infer it contains after reading the book's title?

I've read a few reviews of the book. I'd paraphrase my understanding as (1) it intends to be read by laymen (it is not a text for scholars), (2) it intends to directly confront the claim that our Nation was founded on Christian principles/doctrine and intended to fulfill a Christian purpose, and (3) it's title was changed to fan the controversial flames ... i.e. marketing controversy is easier than marketing boredom ... and makes more money to boot :-)

I've not come across any evidence that it is irreligious, and have read enough quotations to be convinced the authors make that apparent.

However, I may be way off on my understanding ... as I haven't actually read it.

Regarding the misleading title, I wished the authors had changed the title to "The Godless Constitution - of a Christian Nation" ... that would certainly have stirred up a lot more controversy ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Regarding the misleading title, I wished the authors had changed the title to "The Godless Constitution - of a Christian Nation" ... that would certainly have stirred up a lot more controversy ;-)

Ben, you got some serious clarity and marketing chops goin' on lately. No Bartonite or Zinnite or anyone in between could have resisted that title.

Not only that, but leaving the content of the book itself aside, it has the virtue of being entirely accurate on the truth of the matter.

bpabbott said...

Thanks for the props Tom.

When passions get a bit warm here, I often wonder if both sides aren't arguing against, rather than for, particular positions ... i.e. one against the Bartonites and the other against the Zinnites.

As neither camp has a presence here (that I'm aware of), such debates look to be strawmen slaughter houses.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yup.

Explicit Atheist said...

Lets talk about this notion that we must believe in god as expressed in the quote "I couldn't live a day of my life without God." that Brian says "Americans are gratified to read". Is this ideological addiction to a particular conclusion about the way the world works good? Is such dependency on a fixed conclusion the proper way to hold such beliefs? Is this the way we generally hold our beliefs? The answers are no.

Our beliefs about how the world works are held on a weight of the evidence basis. We don't walk into walls because we know, from weight of the evidence experience, that we can't walk through walls. There is no reason to hold beliefs about how the world works, which includes beliefs concerning the existence and nature of gods, on any basis other than weight of the evidence.

Since we hold our beliefs on the basis of weight of the evidence it is the evidence that dictates our beliefs and not the other ways around. We are born into the world and the evidence is a just a brute fact. We don't choose the evidence and therefore we don't choose our weight of the evidence derived beliefs.

So it doesn't make any sense to insist that we cannot live without believing in any particular conclusion about how the world works. That is like insisting that the weight of the evidence must be one way and not the other way. But we don't get to choose the evidence because evidence is a brute fact like the brute fact of our eye color and our height.

So one of the premises of the argument that Brian Tubbs is making, that we should start with a particular conclusion about what is true and anyone who doesn't reach that conclusion shouldn't be elected to public office, is an irrational and untenable argument.

Brian Tubbs said...

To answer Ray's question about the painting, I just did a search on Google images and came up with that one.

Here's a link to it...

http://tiny.cc/YiuRy

I recognized it as being one of the more commonly published paintings and thought it would be okay to use it.

Brian Tubbs said...

Angie, the Founders did not establish the United States as an "oligarchy," as you seem to imply.

Unless, of course, you are defining a Republic as an oligarchy.

Brian Tubbs said...

Let me add another clarification (as Pinky/Phil also clarified, for which I'm thankful)...

I am NOT arguing that a majority has the right to demand an official or legal religious test in civil elections.

I am saying that the individual voter has the right to cast his or her vote based on whatever criteria he or she sets. If that involves a private religious test ("I will only vote for a Baptist"), that is his/her right, just as it would be for them to only vote for pet owners, people with disabilities, war veterans, or whatever.

I'm simply defending the right of people to vote their conscience.

Brian Tubbs said...

Explicit Atheist writes: "So one of the premises of the argument that Brian Tubbs is making, that we should start with a particular conclusion about what is true and anyone who doesn't reach that conclusion shouldn't be elected to public office, is an irrational and untenable argument."

I agree such an argument is "irrational and untenable," which is why I didn't make it. :-)

Either you're distorting my views or you have misunderstood them.

Andrew said...

"...but the tradition of our faith in God and dependence on Him is deeply American. It's a rich part of our nation's heritage and history, and if we ever lose that, we will lose something very precious."

Well said Brian. I think there is a great amount of irrational fear and paranoia among liberals that Christians would like to follow a course of 1. Prove Christianity is part of American Heritage 2. Use that to return us to some "fundamentalist" way of Old Testament living. Nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. Enjoyed reading this morning!