April 29, 2007

What If This Were The United States?

A country was founded as a strictly secular state with a Constitution that requires that the government be strictly non-religious. It is poised on the brink of nominating its first religious observant President. The army obviously has serious reservations and there is a massive rally of secular people demanding that the apparent nominee make a pledge to adhere to the secular Constitution. That's what's happening in Turkey, right now.

Seems a contrast from the United States, where most of the major politicians are running towards religion.

UPDATE: The BBC reports:


zzi said...

The United States was founded on religious ideas. It's a secular government but a religious nation. But don't take my word for it:
James Madison:

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government…. We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Burt Likko said...

No, it wasn't.

Your Madison quote is a complete fabrication; James Madison never said or wrote it. See Alley, "Public Education and the Public Good," William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Summer 1995, pp. 316-318. (You will need a Westlaw or Lexis account to follow this link through to the article; links below should all go through for free on a click.)

Maybe some other guy who happened to be named James Madison said those words, but the James Madison who was the architect of the Constitution and the Fourth President of the United States never said those words.

Here's a few quotes from the real James Madison:

And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect.

[Speaking against a bill to establish Congressional chaplains:] "Are not the daily devotions conducted by these legal ecclesiastics already degenerating into a scanty attendance, and a tiresome formality?

Thus dispensing with Madison, let's move on to Thomas Jefferson, who explaining that religion as history has known it was nothing but a tool of oppression:

May [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

On the matter of Jefferson's own beliefs, he instructed posterity to "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my god and myself alone." and "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

Jefferson also wrote of George Washington: "I know that Gouverneur Morris, who claimed to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in that system [Christianity] than he did." Washington himself was always very taciturn about his own religious beliefs and a great deal of scholarship has been devoted to determining that he, like Jefferson and Madison, was a Deist who believed (at most) in a creator who took no particular interest in the affairs of men.

John Adams, himself a believer, was nevertheless quite skeptical of organized religion: "The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"

And "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"

And in reference to the idea that Christ was God, Adams wrote "God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world."

I could quote Ben Franklin for days:

"I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies."

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."

The list goes on and on, but I think I've made my point. This is as false and cynical a slander as the claims that Darwin, Sagan and/or Einstein "converted" on their deathbeds. All lies. Those claims have been repeatedly and firmly refuted by their families, who were with these men when they were dying.

These men -- great men, worthy of our respect and admiration -- were not Christians in any way that would make sense to us today. They were deists, if not outright atheists (Washington was "closeted" for purposes of advancing his political career, but his close friends and family knew well that he left his church before communion was dispensed, and recorded their contemporaneous recollections of him, as did Jefferson and Morris).

You've been duped, zzi. Fooled. Defrauded. Consider this: who told you these lies, and why do they want you to believe them?

zzi said...

I could quote Ben Franklin for days:

Without relying on Lexis, didn't he suggest saying a prayer before sessions?

You can believe what you want but saying that the founders didn't hold strong religious beliefs is being disingenuous.

Since there was no radio back in 1787 maybe you can also dispute this

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


zzi said...

P.S. a little known fact, except by millions, we all at some point skipped out right around communion

Burt Likko said...

Without relying on Lexis, I can say that the idea of Ben Franklin suggesting a prayer before sessions of Congress is decidedly silly. Franklin never served in Congress and would not have been there to either support or oppose Madison's desire to skip the prayers and other mummery.

Burt Likko said...

Some of the Founders did hold strong religious beliefs, zzi. But Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Washington were not among them.

Burt Likko said...

As for "believing" what the Founders thought, I prefer knowledge to belief. There is nothing disingenuous about maintaining the truth that the Founders did not hold Christianity in particularly high regard. But there is something disingenuous about the pro-Christian revisionism that has arisen about these men in the past several years. Their own words contradict the elaborate efforts to twist their beliefs into something that they were not.

If you wish to acquire knowledge rather than belief, you can start with this well-researched, nuanced analysis of Madison's thoughts about religion and supplement it with a conversation between Jonathan Rowe of the Pacific Legal Foundation and political commentator Michael Novak. I caution, though, that both of these are lengthy reads; you've indicated a lack of appetite for expressions of thought longer than the blogging equivalent of sound bites. So if you prefer to simply believe what you've been told, despite the availability of significant evidence, there's not much I can do about it.

An argument without evidence is akin to a Hindu and an Aztec debating cosmology. Both insist on the absolute correctness of their positions despite the demonstrable lack of any reason to think either of them are making any reference to the real world. So rather than continuing a "Is so," "Is not" discussion, I'll ask instead for citations of sources supporting your side of the argument -- as I have offered you in this and in my previous posts.