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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christianity as a subversive activity

From the time I was in elementary school, I have been taught about our form of democracy.  The courses were variously called  civics, government, and political science.  And the definition of democracy was covered in history courses, English courses, and geography courses.  In grade school, on Friday afternoons when the Weekly Reader was distributed to us,  we encountered frequent articles on our democracy and how it compares with others.  In college and graduate school years, students of history and literature delved into the complexities of the arguments for choosing a  republic as the form of democracy America  would take. 

The definition of democracy is standard and hardly varies a word among the many dictionaries one can consult, as exemplified in Merriam-Webster:     a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

What brings all this to mind is that in the comments under some of my posts in which the word democracy has been used, people have posted "we are a republic not a democracy."  On a few occasions, I responded by saying that a republic is a form of democracy, but then I let it go.  One can endure only so many WTF moments.  I kept asking W(here)TF did this dudely go to school and is he acquainted with dictionaries or any other  educated use of the English language?   I did not really want to know the answer to that.  When people have pride and confidence in ignorance, the potential for the future is not pleasant to contemplate.  World history is full of  examples of what happens when ignorance and its attendant prejudices and hatreds rule.   Belligerent ignorance is like carbon monoxide.  It resides where brain cells do not, and it kills what brain cells there are if left undetected.

As I browsed through the listings on a blog aggregator recently, my ignorance detector alarm was set off in its most strident WTF mode.    The summary statement for a blog said:  "Historian David Barton talks about the fact that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and why that it is important." 

What set the alarm off is that the sentence makes a republic and a democracy two discrete  and opposing entities.  It suggests that a republic is not a form of democracy, but a form of government that militates against democracy.  Immediately it raised the question of what kind of "historian" would make such an erroneous and wrongful use of terms that are so clearly and historically defined.  If such a historian held a position in a reputable college or university, he could be  fired for incompetence, scholarly slovenliness, and, possibly, mendacity.

The  misuse of the terms raised the specter of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984,  The job of people who worked in the Ministry of Truth was to purge words of their established and historic meanings, so that the concep
ts that the terms name from history and usage would not be perpetuated for subsequent generations to know.  If the concepts named in language are eliminated, people will not know about them or be tempted to practice them.

The first task was to find out what gave David Barton credentials as a "historian."  It turns out that he is, in fact, a propagandist for fundamentalist religious organizations that find the First Amendent's prohibition against the establishment of an official state religion an onerous concept to live with.   The purging of the term republic  from its meaning as a form of democracy sets up a definition that could give elected representatives authority over the will of the people.   Investing the authority of the government in a republic to the exclusion of a democracy would give the will of the representatives authority over the will of the people.  While the First Amendment prohibits the making of a law establishing a religion, elected representatives could rule over the people and impose the their favored religious notions as the law of the land.   

David Barton's academic credentials include a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oral Roberts University and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Pensacola Christian College.  From the standpoint of academic qualifications, Barton does not have the earned credentials to call himself a historian.  Assessments of his scholarship by reputable professional  scholars range from a restrained "shoddy" to an outright "fraudulent."

He is identified as a fundamentalist right-wing activist who belongs to a faction that claims that the United States was actually founded to be a fundamentalist Christian nation and that separation of church and state was never intended.  The idea of separation of church and state, they claim, was foisted on the nation by recent Supreme Court decisions.  

Anyone who is familiar with Early American history and/or literature knows that the founding of America was done in the midst of a vicious and violent religious turmoil, as protestant and catholic denominations fought for their right to be and to observe their religious precepts.  The founders were not a group of  religious zealots seeking ways to impose their brand of religion on the emerging nation.  They were a diverse group of men searching for a way for people of equally diverse cultures and beliefs to coexist and function as a nation.

The breakdown of affiliations of the members of the Constitutional conventions is: 

Episcopalian/Anglican 88 54.7%
Presbyterian 30 18.6%
Congregationalist 27 16.8%
Quaker 7 4.3%
Dutch Reformed/German Reformed 6 3.7%
Lutheran 5 3.1%
Catholic 3 1.9%
Huguenot 3 1.9%
Unitarian 3 1.9%
Methodist 2 1.2%
Calvinist 1 0.6%

And this does not indicate that two of the most influential shapers of America's ruling documents, Franklin and Jefferson, were Deists.  The main author of the First Amendment was James Madison whose role is recalled by Ken Davis, a real historian, in Smithsonian Magazine:
James Madison

In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.
“Who does not see,” Madison wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

 The ploy of the fundamentalist right-wing which would like to return the U.S. to the intolerant and violent theocracy which banished dissidents, such as Roger Williams and pressed to death people it designated "witches," is to eliminate and falsify the real facts of history.  In accomplishing this task, it also tries to change the meanings of the fundamental words that describe and record the government we have established. 

The First Amendment is not the only one under assault by those working for a totalitarian take-over of the government.  Orwell wrote his books as a warning of what can happen to free nations.  The right-wing is using it as a manual for its take-over. 


Bob Ellis said...


As to your snobbish (I hate to keep using the word "snobbish" so often, but when the shoe repeatedly fits, then it should be repeatedly donned) dismissal of David Barton's qualifications as a historian, you might do well to consult a dictionary now and then, for it says that a historian is "a student or writer of history; especially : one who produces a scholarly synthesis" or "a writer or compiler of a chronicle." Barton overwhelmingly meets that criteria; unfortunately, your own "qualifications" best fit that of propagandist, i.e. " the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person" in that you spread false information for the purpose of deceiving people about the Christian heritage of our nation, to advance your own secularist agenda that would rather see the American public square sanitized of every whisper of our Christian heritage and the influence of it that you so loathe.

I'm afraid I'm at a loss to understand what you intend to "prove" with your list of denominational affiliations of the members of the Constitutional Convention. Perhaps it escaped you (there I go again, charitably attributing ignorance rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive), but every single one of those "affiliations" are Christian ones. Even the three Unitarians--though today Unitarianism has devolved into an "anything goes" belief system--held a Christian worldview. Again, I doubt that anyone with your obvious access to facts could be that amazingly stupid, so I can only conclude that you hope to deceive the honestly ignorant into believing that "Episcopalian/Anglican,"Presbyterian," etc. are not in fact all members of the Christian faith.

I'm afraid I must also correct your propaganda concerning Franklin and Jefferson: they were NOT deists. Deists basically believe in the existence of a general deity who created the universe (I'm sure that you would loathe even this minimal level of belief) but who has no interaction or communication with that universe.

Jefferson was most assuredly NOT a deist, because the evidence of his own statements is incontrovertible that he believed in a very active and involved Judeo-Christian God:

- The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. (sounds like Jefferson believes in the Judeo-Christian God, and that God was quite actively involved in giving us liberty--as he also noted in the Declaration of Independence, I might add)

- No government can flourish without religion.

- The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

- The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.

- I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others.

- I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ

Nope, no deist wearing Thomas Jefferson's clothes.

Bob Ellis said...


Benjamin Franklin?

When Franklin founded America's first hospital, he chose the Bible story of the good Samarian for its logo, along with a statement from Luke 10:35: “Take care of him and I will repay thee.”

When congress began deliberations to craft our Constitution, Franklin said, "In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

"I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

"I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service."

Was Franklin a genuine born-again Christian? Probably not. Did he ascribe to the Christian worldview? Absolutely. Was he a deist? The shoe (see above) just doesn't fit. Sorry to bust your bubble, but I have a duty to defend the truth from liars like you.

The founders most assuredly did not want a theocracy, a state church or a state religion. They equally assuredly did not want a government devoid of the influence of the Christian belief system upon which it is founded and gave birth to it.

I doubt very seriously you have any interest in learning the facts (you have already demonstrated your "skill" at stepping over them without being contaminated by them), but in case any of the small number of people who may stumble by this page are interested, they can go here and here and receive just a taste of how woefully, shamefully, and abysmally wrong you are about everything you have said here.

caheidelberger said...

Hey, David! Now you're a snob for reading the dictionary. Sigh.

David Newquist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Newquist said...

My post was not an attack on Christianity. It is an exposure of sects that pervert Christianity into an intolerant, totalitarian excuse for oppression and condemnation, as you demonstrate here. Anyone who knows the development of democratic concepts knows that Christ's ministry of equality was the impetus that launched freedom, equality, and justice into the world. Jefferson and Franklin abided by and endorsed these concepts, but their their theology departed radically from the religious Christian mainstream. Some of that is outlined in the link to Ken Davis' essay. Jefferson has written 18,000 letters among which are some explicit explanations of his theology, and his ideas are essentially Deistic.

The excision of sentences by authors with no attempt to supply their context or relationship to the overall work of the authors is subreption. It is not a practice engaged in or tolerated by a genuine scholar.

If despising misrepresentations and dishonesty is snobbish, then count me as a full blown, elitist snob.

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