I was very pleased to see the authors give Roger Williams his due as an essential American advocate of the Baptist principle of separation of church and state. Kramnick & Moore provide a fine overview of that doctrine, which is the central distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. Actually, it's the only distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. It's what "Baptist" means, with everything else Baptists tend to believe flowing from that (including the unwieldy individual freedom of conscience that allows us only to speak of what Baptists "tend" to believe). The teaching about voluntary, adult believer's baptism developed as a rebuke and rejection of mandatory state-church baptism as a rite of citizenship.
But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America's "Godless Constitution." I had read most of the other side of this argument -- the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn't previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.
The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.
So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document -- with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect -- would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Slacktivist on The Godless Constitution
Here. A taste: