Sunday, May 31, 2009

Example of How Activists Misuse History of America's Founding & Religion

It shouldn't surprise that it comes from Pat Boone. In my last piece I cited an article by Alissa Wilkinson where she gave this bit of wise advice to conservative Christians:

[W]e lazily identify Christianity with a particular political system, rather than carefully examining the Bible to determine how we should understand and participate in various spheres of society—economics, politics, morality, etc.

When we understand the climate in which the country was founded, we can understand how the Founders could speak with a language that sounds Christian to our ears but not necessarily believe in the Bible as the totality of God’s revelation.

Pat Boone's article is a textbook example of confusion of his own evangelical faith for the theology of the American Founding. Boone's article responds to a pro-ACLU veteran who wrote the following:

Mr. Boone,

The ACLU is simply the Constitution in action, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. If you don't like what the ACLU does, then either you really don't approve of the Constitution and the First Amendment themselves, or you don't fully understand what they say and mean.

As a combat veteran of World War II, I fought to preserve and protect our Constitution. So I joined the ACLU in 1950 and have strongly supported them ever since.

We most certainly do have an effort here in America to impose upon us the equivalent of an American Taliban. But that comes not from the ACLU, but from the ranting, raving Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists – the Christianofascists who are running rampant over America these days trying to cram their irrational theology and their silly Bible down our throats.

Well, our Constitution says that we don't have to accept that moral and intellectual fascism, and so – with the welcome aid of the ACLU we are vomiting back in your faces.

You "nutty" fundamentalists are the American Taliban, not the ACLU, and as long as we have the Constitution and the ACLU, you will not prevail.

I actually know the person (not very well, but through email) who wrote this note. He is an 80 something year old fervent atheist and a minor national figure in his own right. He sent me the following note when I asked him his opinion on the evidence of Christianity:

Without commenting at length, I meely point out that Cornthians was written around 54AD, some 24 years after the crucificion, in an eram without recorders, reporters, or other than word- of-mouth heasay. Similarly, the four gospels themselves were written (Mark) around 65-70 AD; Matthwe and Luke in the 70s,and John around 95. There were no tape recorders, or other means of recording. They are largely worthless as historical records. The whole thing, and the Christianity derived from it is a fraud, concocted for political purposes. resurrections don't happen. Period. Either the dead body was removed from the tomb, or he didn't actually die on the cross and revived later. There is no supernatural.

Here is how Boone responded to the writer's defense of the ACLU, broken down bit by bit with my comments following:

Are you aware, sir, that President Thomas Jefferson, "Mr. Separation of Church and State" himself, combined with Congress to appropriate tax funds to pay missionaries to "preach the gospel to the Indians"?

Chris Rodda debunks this notion:

[This] is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

Boone's article implies that a purpose of American government was to promote and convert those who didn't believe in Christianity to said faith. The Founders were more accommodating to religion than is Boone's atheist writer; however their ends were almost always secular. Think about it; Roman Catholicism was probably the least popular form of Christianity during the time of the Founding. Why would Jefferson, a man who hated "superstition" want to promote a sect of Christianity that was regarded as the most "superstitious." The answer is because that's the religion the Indians choose. In other words, this is an example of the religious indifference of the Founding. Any religion that the people choose we'll accommodate, even Roman Catholicism! That nuanced point, key to understanding American Founding political theology, is lost on Boone.

Back to Boone:

Our Founding Fathers, the creators of the Constitution you rightly admire, believed God created all men equal, and should at least hear about Him and His love for all of us, though they were free to reject it if they chose. Is this what you call "intellectual fascism"?

Again, this confuses the theology of the Declaration of Independence with biblical Christianity. The two are not the same. One might argue I am reading too much into Boone's words. However, carefully look at the letter to which he is responding: It attacks evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, of which Boone is one. Why would Boone use the words of the Founders in his defense if he didn't hear their words as evangelical speak?

But, the idea of God creating men equal is certainly incompatible with atheism; it's just a very broad based theology, not biblical Christianity.

Back to Boone:

You're a veteran, you say. How would you respond to the first military commander in chief this country ever had, Gen. George Washington, who in general orders to his troops on July 9, 1776, wrote, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country."

Again, how do George Washington's words equate to a defense of politically active evangelical Christianity? On a personal note I think GW would like Boone more than the atheist because GW saw religion in general and Christianity in particular as having a salutary or civilizing effect on character, which is extremely useful for the military and self-government. I see Washington's statement as part of a unitarian theology of civil utility and man's works. The test of sound religion is that it produces virtue. And Christianity equates with being a good person, not necessarily someone who has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Ultimately Boone's quoting Washington is inapt to his argument.

Back to Boone:

Your ACLU is currently suing to prevent chaplains from praying in Jesus' name, and it would like to do away with chaplains altogether. What would they say to Gen. Washington?

Is the ACLU fighting to prevent Chaplains from praying in Jesus' name when acting as personal chaplains to military troops who are having their spiritual needs ministered to? I don't think so. Rather, it's when a Chaplain purports to pray on behalf of the entire nation. And Washington never ONCE was recorded publicly or privately praying in Jesus' name. In other words, the lawsuit is to get chaplains to pray more like George Washington did. That is, not in Jesus' name.

I know what Gen. Washington would say to them, because he already said, in his Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796, "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."

In light of these and so many other pronouncements by those who gave their lives and sacred honor to give us our freedoms – what is your definition of patriotism? And in light of their dedication to subverting these "great Pillars" Washington pronounced indispensable – what should we call the ACLU?

Again, this misfires. I know my atheist friend does indeed want to subvert all religion. But again, the context of his letter to Boone was an attack on politically active evangelical Christianity. That's not what Washington defends in his Farewell Address. Rather he defends the institution of "religion" generally defined. Most evangelicals are likewise spiritually at odds with Washington and the other key Founders because they don't believe in "religion" in general, but one specific path to God.

That is simply not what Washington or the American Founding are all about.


King of Ireland said...

This article was right on. I have been trying to get "Evangelicals" to see this for years. Ed Brayton challenged me to find any Biblical principles in the founding years ago. I never got back to him but I see righteousness and justice. I also see compassion, grace, abouding love, forgiveness and the rest.

I do not see much of this in the "Evangelicals" I know that seek to impose their will on others through government.

Tom Van Dyke said...

We have two sides each calling the other the Taliban. Literally. Another jump into the muck around here.

So Pat Boone makes some historical errors in a column in World Net Daily. OK, fine. His original column about the ACLU's doings is pretty accurate, I think, and yes, the ACLU has gone after chaplains in several cases, and against things like the prayer at the Naval Academy's noon meal, a 160-yr old tradition, the activists tell us.

[If you publish an article on an issue, or contribute to a cause, are you then an "activist?" Further, is Boone selling only a Bible-based evangelical Christianity here or elsewhere? Facts not in evidence.]

I think posting your atheist friend's disputation of the Resurrection is inappropriate here, Jon. It's a purely theological matter, and we don't for instance, permit attacks on Mormon theology here.

However, since one of our pastor contributors once posted his evidence for the Resurrection, I suppose it's fair dinkum.

I did warn him, and objected as well to that part of his original post. Truth claims [or their disputation] have no place in a secular forum.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well Tom, I think my friend's attack and attacks on Mormonism are/should be permitted here in an abstract sense, that is, something we can reproduce as long as we don't engage in the attacking. That was what I was trying to do here. As a personal matter, I certainly DON'T endorse his attack on evangelicals. I wanted to put it in for context.

Likewise if an evangelical figure attacks Mormonism as "not Christian" and then goes on to say "the FFs were almost all 'Christian'" I am going to reproduce that because I think it's an important illustrant of the political-theological problem that evangelical promoters of the "Christian America" thesis have not properly dealt with.

Re Boone and facts not in evidence, I'd love to be able to pin him or Barton down further. I think what I wrote is implicit in the facts. My friend attack Boone as an evangelical/fundamentalist; Boone replied with some "pro-religion" sentiments of the FFs (mainly GW) acting as though it won his argument without actually actually arguing his case.

There is an argument to be made that GW & co. would have been pro-evangelical because they were 1) pro-religion in general, 2) pro-Christianity in particular, and 3) evangelical Christianity is a species of "Christianity" which itself is a genus of "religion."

However I didn't see that nuance here. Rather I saw implicitly -- perhaps reading too much into Boone's words -- conflation of American Founding political theology with Boone's own personal kind of Christianity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

RE activists, yes both Boone AND my friend are "activists." (My friend is actually one of the most important "activists" of a particular social group, so much so that the Smithsonian collects his papers). If my friend, like Hitchens, tried to misuse some of the FFs quotes to argue his attacks on Christianity, I'd call him on it. Ed Brayton and I have both called Hitchens out when he did so.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Rather I saw implicitly -- perhaps reading too much into Boone's words -- conflation of American Founding political theology with Boone's own personal kind of Christianity...

Yeah. Pat Boone exaggerates a fact about Jefferson and we get a 1500-word essay complete with a gratuitous attack on the Resurrection. Plus you appear to be wrong about the ACLU and chaplains.

So goes the culture war.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I am not convinced on the Chaplains and the ACLU yet.

The attack on the Resurrection was not meant to make my friend look good. Though I admit one of my vices is enjoying the clownishness in life, in particular as it relates to culture wars.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I prefer not to fan them.

You can poke through other instances on chaplains, but the Naval Academy issue is here:

What is clear is that the ACLU is invoking the power of law and government against long-standing customs [some over a century old], in the name of Founding principles.

Now, one might agree with them that certain things should be changed.

But let's not pretend that it was ever a Founding principle or intent to set the power of the central government against the underlying society's "mores and manners," as Montesquieu put it in The Spirit of the Laws.

In the Founders' view at least, law is subservient to society, not the other way around.

Brian Tubbs said...

Tom, your statement...

"Truth claims [or their disputation] have no place in a secular forum." itself a "truth claim." :-)

If this blog is to discuss religion as part of America's founding, then it's altogether appropriate for some posts to evaluate the "truth claims" of the various religious views present during the founding.

In my case, I was evaluating Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. And I plan to do so more in the future. I see nothing wrong with this.

That said, I don't attack anyone else for believing what they wish to believe. Even in my critique of Mr. Paine, I believe I was tactful about it.

Brian Tubbs said...


Your friend's attack on the resurrection was sloppy. His basic argument is that I Corinthians and the Gospels are "worthless" because they were written 20-70 years after Jesus during an era where there were no tape recorders, etc. This is terrible reasoning on his part. If we adopt this mindset, then pretty much all of our ancient records (shoot, pretty much all historical records prior to tape recorders) are "worthless."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brian, it's my view that questions like whether Jesus rose from the dead or is the second person of the Holy Trinity are---as one fellow put it---above our pay grade.

Not only that, but I find they lead to unresolvable and often contentious arguments and serve only to dilute the true purpose of the blog.

Now, our Mormon contributors do not put the truth claims of their religion on the table; hence, this blog's de facto ban on theological attacks on Mormonism seems appropriate.

However, if you take it upon yourself to put the miraculous claims of orthodox Christianity on the table, well, you know that some quite ugly responses have been generated here in the past. Therefore, IMO, for you to do so runs counter to the manifest wisdom of Matthew 7:6.

If you're going to speak of the sacred, prepare to have it profaned.

Hey, pastor, do what you must. But it opens the door, in all fairness, to reciprocal attacks on Christian belief in that goose and gander way. And for the record, I myself don't enjoy either the preaching or the attacks. Such things mark us as either a Christian blog or an anti-Christian one; either may attract more casual readers, but thoughtful ones will be repulsed, likely never to return.

bpabbott said...

Tom, regarding your comment; "Truth claims [or their disputation] have no place in a secular forum."

I'd assumed that you were speaking of religious truth. After reading Brian's comments, I'm not sure I'd inferred correctly.

Perhaps you can clarify?

Brian, Regarding Jon's friend's attack on the historic record of the resurrection, I also don't think the remark with regards to modern audio/visual technology is well reasoned/fair.

It would be a more proper critque to observe that there is no contemporary record of the events in question. But that is a critique of history, not of religion (at least in my opinion).

Regarding the Christian religion, I think such a critique is irrelevant. For me the value of religion is derived by a devotion to a set of higher moral principles, and by "higher", I imply that which we can each aspire to, but will never master.

Brian Tubbs said...

I think there are ways to put "truth claims" forward that are appropriate.

If I were to come in here and just make proclamations, that would be impolite and in poor taste.

For me to personally attack the religious views of others would also be in poor taste.

But, for me to critique Thomas Paine's Age of Reason (which is what I did) is, I think, fair game.

The reason is because Paine's Age of Reason represents an extremely significant document in early American history - one that is very germane to our topic here.

But I will agree with you that I was "threading a needle" so to speak with that particular posting. I tried to couch everything I said in regard to Mr. Paine's arguments.

Had I simply done up a post titled: "Why Christianity is True" and made it just a proclamation piece for my faith, that would've been inappropriate for this blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Ben, Mr. Tubbs wrote's altogether appropriate for some posts to evaluate the "truth claims" of the various religious views present during the founding...

...and he has previously argued for the factuality of Jesus' resurrection, and indicates he'll argue similarly in the future.

The nexus of my point---and where I think Brian will work against his own goal by arguing miraculous "truth claims" which can never be satisfactorily proved---is in your own statement

For me the value of religion is derived by a devotion to a set of higher moral principles, and by "higher", I imply that which we can each aspire to, but will never master...

...thereby reducing religious belief to moral principles, as many try to do with Washington and Jefferson.

Now, a pastor like Mr. Tubbs [and we have seen Gregg Frazer feel obliged to return again and again to argue similarly] will invariably be called to echo CS Lewis in Mere Christianity:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41 .

And they're understandably called to argue in Lewis' fashion---where you or I or Mr. Rowe might consider these things at arm's length, for men of faith like Brian and Gregg, our historical arguments here are secondary to being a witness for Christ. First things first.

In fact, the depth of Gregg Frazer's evangelical belief seems to have led him to a reading of Romans 13 that is relatively unconcerned with politics and the culture wars atall, if I understand him correctly. His kingdom [capital "H," i.e., Jesus'] is not of this world.

Now, I'm not an evangelical, although sharing this space with Brian and Gregg has brought me a greater appreciation for the [in their case, deeply principled] evangelical POV, one that I have defended in the abstract and one I'll continue to defend as a necessary component of American religious pluralism.

However, speaking for myself, although Thomas Jefferson apparently razor-bladed the Bible and turned Jesus in just the sort of "great moral teacher"---no more no less, exactly what Lewis argues against, Jefferson also wrote

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"

And so, my argument is this: That in trying to get from Jefferson to CS Lewis, a bridge way too far to ever be built in a forum like ours [and indeed unsupportable by fact or argument], the monotheistic and providential God of the Founding, which even Jefferson accepted, will be the casualty of Mr. Abbott's sense of "religion"---as merely "a devotion to a set of higher moral principles," exactly what Lewis was trying to avoid.

And so, by insisting on the acceptance of every chapter and verse of Christian orthodoxy as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, the God in the bathwater will be thrown out along with Baby Jesus, count on it: Read this blog; look at the western world.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brian, I was writing the above when you posted your last. Perhaps I'll turn some of the above ideas into a mainpage thing, but since I discuss your and Gregg's personal beliefs, best leave it tucked away in this comments section in its present form.

I do hope that our readership "getting to know" your and Gregg's hearts and minds as human beings and not monsters will lead to greater understanding. It has for me, at least. I wouldn't have been able to write the above before joining this blog. Cheers.

Brian Tubbs said...

Tom, I'm in agreement with much of what you're writing. With respect to my Age of Reason posts, I did make some apologetics-oriented arguments for Christianity (arguments similar to those of CS Lewis, who btw was a great writer). However, I tried very hard not to put my faith out there in any kind of in-your-face way.

I don't think my Thomas Paine posts could be characterized as "insisting on the acceptance of every chapter and verse of Christian orthodoxy as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition."

I also do not argue that the Founding Fathers were all evangelical Christians who wanted to establish a "Christian Nation." That is NOT my position.

But I do think it's appropriate, if couched in the context of the founding (and, in the case of my posts, couched in the context of Thomas Paine), to defend Christianity against some of the criticisms leveled at it during the Enlightenment period. The Enlightenment, after all, was very influential to the founding period.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, I certainly wasn't speaking of you personally with the take-it-or-leave it part, Brian. And yes, certainly Christianity can be defended against its critics without insisting on its truth claims or on the classic "The Bible is true because it's the word of God" tautology.

bpabbott said...


Thanks for the long explanation. I can't pretend to grasp the wisdom of Lewis' position, but ... to each his own.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that's CS Lewis' faith.

For his wisdom, in a non-religious argument, well, let me lazily plagiarize this first bit from a longer review:

In 1943, British writer C. S. Lewis wrote prophetically about the dangers of scientific materialism in a small, penetrating volume titled The Abolition of Man. There Lewis warned that "if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere the person of his dehumanized Conditioners."Folks can read the entire book here for free. It's certainly worth a skim, anyway.

The first part, the famous "Men Without Chests" [meaning no heart] describes the smug empiricism of the modern educational system, which strips away all human feeling. Lewis then moves to the scientism that reduces man to the sum of his biological parts. An elegant appendix addresses the universal notions of the non-material good, the Tao, taken from wisdom traditions all across the world.

Brian Tubbs said...

I enjoy reading Lewis. However, someone who I think really does a great job representing Christian thought today - in an intellectual manner - is Ravi Zacharias.

If you want to go further back, I enjoy Aquinas and Augustine. Brilliant thinkers.

Tom Van Dyke said...

[Zacharias] routinely speaks on the coherency of the Christian worldview, claiming that Christianity is capable of withstanding the toughest philosophical attacks. Zacharias asserts that the apologist must argue from three levels: the theoretical to line up the logic of the argument, the arts to illustrate, and "kitchen table talk" to conclude and apply.


He has voiced skepticism over what he believes to be inadequate empirical evidence in the fossil records for an honest endorsement of the theory of evolution.

Dunno about this one, unless he's just withholding opinion. That the fossil record is indeed spotty is an objection usually steamrolled by scientism. I meself have no problem with evolution. A rabbinical scholar friend of mine points to Genesis saying man was made out of "clay" [there are two Genesis genesises of man in Genesis]. My friend finds Genesis 2:7

"The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

...that man was brought forth from the base elements, totally compatible with evolution, and this passage as a miraculous proof of the Bible getting it right where Plato and Aristotle didn't. Indeed, where the Greeks thought the universe was eternal, the Book of Genesis had a Big Bang.

"[Zacharias] also questions the claim that evolution is compatible with the second law of thermodynamics, believing the two to be irreconcilable and inconsistent. This stems from the belief that the second law of thermodynamics dictates that all material systems in the universe will, if left to their own devices, tend to disorder."

This line of argument has heft. Why is matter---or organic life---self-organizing? Entropy would seem the natural order of things. It's at this most basic level that scientism need be engaged by theism.

As for my annoying custom of touching on Aquinas, it's not Thomas as a Catholic theologian [although his Christology is quite beautiful and Protestants would like it], but as a thinker who can hang with the Philosophers of Philosophy [philosophers call him "Thomas," not "Aquinas"], and Thomism as a keystone of Christian thought with which men like John Locke were intimately acquainted, and to which any attempts at explaining the human equation must answer.