By Bob Ferris
|There are a few believer eyes in this crowd.|
I think about this incidence now as I watch with horror the simpering video (above) of Kim Davis as she is released from jail—complete with a pandering, attention-seeking Mike Huckabee—and Glenn Beck’s in-car video with the rambling and ridiculous David Barton (below). The combination of the two videos made me feel a little sick inside. My nausea was caused in part because of the threat that Ms. Davis and others offer the country I love and that my family has fought so hard to establish and the ease with which a weak, but believing mind like Mr. Barton’s can so nimbly rewrite history and ignore facts to forward his twisted faith and personal agenda. (Note: the Ted Cruz video helped a little.)
How can a person rationally reconcile the fact that Mr. Barton’s 2012 book The Jefferson Lies—where he makes many of these outlandish assertions—was voted the "the least credible history book in print" by folks on the History News Network website and was basically recalled by his Christian publisher Thomas Nelson because it was not a truthful representation with his devoted following in a community that seeks truth?
How exactly in the above context can Mr. Barton be considered a leader in the evangelical Christian movement and judged by some as one of the foremost Christian revisionist historians? As a scientist lacking the “eyes of a believer” I find it hard to fully understand what is “scholarly” about taking a rich and valuable history and revising it so that it fits how you want it to be. Maybe it is just me but this sounds a whole lot like lying to me or at the very least poorly executed propaganda.
When I look at religion, governance and the Founding Fathers I tend look through the lens of my family’s own 395 year history on this continent and then go directly to source materials from the Founding Fathers. My family was most assuredly Christian but came here and practiced as Puritan, Presbyterian, Quaker, Huguenot, Methodist, Dutch Reformer, Catholic, and Congregationalist. I probably missed some in this list, but they were a diverse lot united only in the fact that they came to this continent because they were chased out or bullied by the “big-box-store” religions. They were bruised and battered refugees who eventually made the bold move of releasing themselves from a government too tied to a single, state religion.
For my own part I am happy that the Founding Fathers—which include a number of my relatives—considered this question of religion thoroughly and artfully prior to finalizing the Constitution which in no way reflects Biblical law as God or Jesus are mentioned in the Constitution about as frequently as democratic republics are mentioned in the Bible. (The answer to both here is that they are not mentioned at all.)
When Charles Pinckney offered up the “no religious test” proposal at the Constitutional Convention that proposal was seconded by Gouverneur Morris who was my great (times seven) uncle. Gouverneur Morris who also came up with the phrase “We the People” was a Christian and in his own way religious but he also understood that room needed to be made for others. In fact, before this clause was included there was a debate and the delegates from North Carolina mentioned their concerns that “pagans, deists and Mahometans” might seek office. Yet even after the debate and even though the delegates were essentially all Christians, they did not remove this clause about banning religious tests in part I suspect because they did not want to be persecuted again (1).
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” George Washington to Newport, Rhode Island, Hebrew Congregation, August 17, 1790When you read the above quote from George Washington in his letter to a Hebrew Congregation in 1790 you get a sense of his elation from being released from some threat and also an inkling of his pride in creating a governmental construct that eschewed bigotry and offered citizens regardless of sect or persuasion freedom to practice their beliefs. The letters to and from him are wonderful reads that give us some insight into Washington’s thoughts and those who were protected and given opportunities through this process.
“Article 11: As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” Treaty of Tripoli reviewed and approved by President John Adams and the Senate 1797And when this question arose seven years later during conflicts with the so-called Barbary Pirates language in our 1797 Treaty with Tripoli (above) made it clear that we might be a nation mostly of Christians but not a Christian nation. Now I have seen arguments offered that the treaty copy in Tripoli contains no Article 11 and that the Senate might have rubber-stamped this without review. Both claims are without credit as folks familiar with this period understand than this was the time of Congressional micro-management.
Reading through all the considerable arguments (1,2,3,4) and counter-arguments (1,2,3,4) regarding the influence of Christianity on the Constitution two things become obvious. The first is that there were many, many influences on the Constitution from Vikings and Romans to political philosophers and the Iroquois Confederacy which were likely tempered, but certainly not driven, by Christian principles or the Bible.
The second is that Christian Reconstructionists are mad to claim ownership of this county, its founding documents and early leaders. The irony being that the most “Christian” aspect of the Constitution is that it embraces and tolerates rather than condemns and persecutes as well as providing protection for all against any religion—even a Christian one—from taking power and destroying this fine and exemplar experiment. We need to make sure that is always the case.