Friday, February 12, 2010

How Christian Were The Founders?

An article in today's New York Times asks, "How Christian Were the Founders," reporting on efforts of the state Board of Education in Texas to re-cast the nation's as fundamentalist Christians.

One member of the Texas Board, Don McLeroy, is a dentist rather than an historian, but declaims that "The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible.."  McLeroy thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, and thinks that the 47 millions textbooks his state purchases each year should reflect that Biblical "fact."

But facts are stubborns things--and history shows that America's founders and framers were not fundamentalists, by any stretch of the imagination. Ben Franklin re-wrote the Lord's Prayer. Jefferson edited his own version of scripture, eliminating the miracles. Washington was never a formal communicant in the Episcopal Church, and avoided attended services on Sundays when communion was served, probably because he didn't believe in the all the doctrines required of orthodox Christians. John and Abigal Adams were both Unitarians, who rejected notions like original sin and eternal damnation. The Constitution never mentions God, because the framers believed government was based on the consent of its citizens, not upon any divine mandate. 

Yet the founders were not secularists or opposed to organized religion. They simply believed that faith should be exercised in the private sphere rather than assert its authority through law or tax-funded initiatives. Unfortunately, today's evangelicals want their own brand of dogma to receive government recognition and support, eliminating the barrier separating church and state. This is a recipe for sectarian conflict. America is the most religiously diverse nation on earth, where Buddhists outnumber Presbyterians and Muslims may outnumber Jews. There is no creed or confession that can unite these various religious systems. Only a philosophy of mutual tolerance and forbearance will enable us all to live together as Americans, inhabitants of a land that--as the founders intended--welcomes people of all beliefs.

10 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I guess you don't read this blog much, Gary. The papers aren't telling the whole story, using McLeroy as a symbol of stupidity.

Daniel Dreisbach of the "conservative side" is a historian with more credentials than all the rest put together, but he's never mentioned because it screws up the narrative of the stupid Christians vs. tolerance and historical truth.

As for your historical assertions, they're not quite accurate---religion was left to the states.

jimmiraybob said...

regardless of whether McLeroy is "a symbol of stupidity," Dreisbach is mentioned in the article:

A third expert, Daniel L. Dreisbach, a professor of justice, law and society at American University who has written extensively on First Amendment issues, stressed, in his recommendations to the guideline writers about how to frame the revolutionary period for students, that the founders were overwhelmingly Christian; that the deistic tendencies of a few — like Jefferson — were an anomaly; and that most Americans in the era were not just Christians but that “98 percent or more of Americans of European descent identified with Protestantism.”

McLeroy is featured prominently on the article cited precisely because he’s been a member of the Texas Board of Education while leading the Christian-nation contingent in reforming the standards to include less science, more Jesus, reformation of Joe McCarthy and more Ronald Reagan. He is a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-evolution Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Not necessarily stupid but very zealous. He deserves the focus.

From a Washington Monthly article:

"With childlike glee, McLeroy flipped through the pages and explained what he saw as the gaping holes in Darwin’s theory. 'I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,’ he declared at one point. 'Evolution is hooey.'"

He sees evolution, a scientific fact, as a political imposition from the left and wants to treat it as a political matter rather than a scientific matter.

And

"'But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.'"

The article points out that the meaning of Christian nation in this context is not that the majority of colonists/Americans at the founding would have identified as Christian in some sense, but that it was the intent of the founders to found a Christian nation in an evangelical sense - as a platform for advancing Christianity.

And

"McLeroy makes no bones about the fact that his professional qualifications have nothing to do with education. 'I’m a dentist, not a historian,' he said. 'But I’m fascinated by history, so I’ve read a lot.'"

In short, McLeroy is an ultra conservative fundamentalist with no educational or historical credentials that is hell bent on imposing a limited and often poorly informed understanding of history and science for the purpose of advancing his own religious ideology (Reformed Protestant).

How wacky is this guy? After eight years on the board and two years as chairman, he was demoted from the chairmanship by the Texas State Senate because of his religious zeal. Read that again, the Texas State Senate. Texas.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for the correction, JRB. I admit I only had read the first few pages because it was a virtual rewrite of the Washington Monthly article, which we discussed at length on this blog previously.

In other words, that McLeroy is the villain. Dreisbach and his credentials are buried in the article, but McLeroy's ignorance and status as a dentist is front and center.

If you want the truth in a mainstream media article, it's usually best to start at the end, where all the info that interferes with the "narrative" is buried.

I have nothing good to say about McLeroy except that as a parent, he has a right to input in the education of the kids. I have no sympathy for creationism, but I'm uncomfortable steamrolling the religious beliefs of others, no matter how ludicrous I find them. Some of Mr. Kowalski's "mutual tolerance and forbearance," I suppose, but a door that seems to swing only one way for sophisticated types like the author of the article.

The article points out that the meaning of Christian nation in this context is not that the majority of colonists/Americans at the founding would have identified as Christian in some sense, but that it was the intent of the founders to found a Christian nation in an evangelical sense - as a platform for advancing Christianity.

And that's simply a lie, since I already posted Peter Marshall's own words on the subject.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/01/peter-marshall-and-texas-school.html

So I hope you'll forgive me at being a bit annoyed when people post stuff on this blog without even reading the damn blog, JRB.

And as for what might actually be wrong about the current curriculum, like featuring minor figures like Anne Hutchinson while ignoring major figures, well, that's a discussion the nation will likely never have.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Over the weekend, I plan on posting something on the NYT article.

Perhaps, after Rev. Kowalski's lead, other front page posters could make a post on the NYT's article.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Jon, I only ask that they read this blog first. Anyone who uses the NYT article as source material just fell off the turnip truck.

I thought this blog was better than that. I object, sir, I object, people writing nonsense about nonsense---as Averro√ęs [ibn Rushd] put it, the Incoherence of the Incoherence!

kbrown said...

I posted an article called America's Godly Heritage where I cited multiple quotes refuting the argument of fundamentalist founding fathers, as well as links to hundreds more quotes that support the idea of anything but a fundamental founding. It is clear if you put aside your preconcieved opinions, and go back and actually read their writings for what they are.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kbrown,

We can't tell whether you are a spammer or not. But it's clear, after reading your article, that you aren't dealing with what the Founders actually said, but rather stepping in the "Christian America" crap errors that make your side look bad.

For instance, Patrick Henry never said: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Even Barton admits the quote is "unconfirmed."

Brian Tubbs said...

"They simply believed that faith should be exercised in the private sphere rather than assert its authority through law or tax-funded initiatives."

Like TVD, I have to take issue with this assertion. It succeeds in being loaded and shallow at the same time.

A majority of the Founders (if by "Founders," we mean those in the First and Second Continental Congress, delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and, say, the first five Presidents) had NO problem with monotheism being expressed clearly and unequivocally in the public sphere, even at the national level.

As for the rest of religion, it was left to the states. The Constitution barred religious tests for national offices and the First Amendment prohibited Congress from "respecting an establishment of religion," but no such restrictions were placed on the states. They could do as they pleased.

King of Ireland said...

"Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible.."

This is the one Jon and Ed Brayton dispute. It comes down to whether the DOI got away from the "Workmanship of God" argument that Locke had as the foudation for inalienable rights. This theme is found in the Bible and is most certainly part of historical Christianity.

Some would say, and many on Dispatches do, that Jefferson separated from Locke on this. I have seen no evidence provided for this and even if there is one still has to account for the Adams and Continental Congress God talk additions that were obviously intended to appeal to Calvinist and Orthodox Christians.

So can anyone defend the idea that the concept of individual rights grounded on the workmanship of God is not found in the Bible or historical Christian teaching?

King of Ireland said...

"Daniel Dreisbach of the "conservative side" is a historian with more credentials than all the rest put together, but he's never mentioned because it screws up the narrative of the stupid Christians vs. tolerance and historical truth."

TRUE