Monday, May 2, 2016

The Peril of the Swinging Pendulum Stopped by the Delicate Wall of Separation

By Bob Ferris

This past weekend I was accused of being a tree-hugging, cactus-kissing, retard uttering gibberish with no concept of the real world by a person who seemed just a little too prideful of his on-line degree.  All of this because I criticized the sentiments attributed to Mr. Martinez in the lower half of the above graphic posted on LinkedIn.  Hmm.  (The thread got uglier so the original poster took it down.)

Much as I appreciate constructive criticism, my sense was that I was not really uttering gibberish when I suggested that our rights in this country are defined and given to us in the US Constitution and not by God as the above quote suggests.  I know that those opposing that view will be quick to point out that the Declaration of Independence penned initially by Thomas Jefferson contained the word “Creator” in connection with the rights of citizens (see here).  Moreover these natural law advocates will point out that Jefferson and other Founding Fathers read John Locke and other natural law advocates as well as the Bible.  Put together this evidence seems to provide conclusive proof of God-given rights.

The above arguments seem sound but when one looks at the first draft of the Declaration written by Jefferson, we do see the nebulous term nature's god, but the word “Creator” is not in his original draft (see here).  That word was placed there in a subsequent version in what essentially became a consensus document designed to call all the colonies to arms in a war that was already very much in progress.   Please remember that the Declaration was written more than a year after the Battle of Bunker Hill and nearly a year after King George would not even read the so-called Olive Branch Petition and declared the Colonies to be in open rebellion (August, 1775).
No notes survive from the Declaration editing meetings, but I would be very much surprised if someone did not feel that evoking the image of God would be helpful in gathering support—particularly in areas that might otherwise be resistant.  I suspect the “God” move or anything similar was objected to by the Deists and there was a compromise to use the word “Creator” which might have been objectionable to some, but did not cause them to pick up sticks and go home.  And this mention in the document was also something of a counter statement against the claims of the monarchy that argued they were ruling by “divine right.”

And, yes, Jefferson and others read Locke and other natural law proponents but they also studied those philosophers with alternate views like Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham with the latter thinking that the idea of natural rights was basically “nonsense on stilts.”  But then the Founders also read Roman and Greek philosophers and studied the Magna Carta in addition to observing the workings of the Iroquois Confederation.   These were learned men so there were lots of influences in their lives.
The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham out of his closet.  A wax representation of his face attached to his skeleton wrapped in straw and stuffed into his clothes.
I tend to agree with Bentham and not only because I first learned of him as a young child through reading a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not piece about his head and skeleton being preserved to maintain his presence and influence, but by the simple logic that rights cannot be God-given and inalienable if someone can take them away from you in the name of God.  But I also have some optimistic sympathy for Locke’s view of human goodness.

In the minds of those arguing that our rights are God-given and that our Christian Founding Fathers founded a Christian Nation, those protecting the concept of separation of church and state must be anti-Christian.  These people—often subscribers to Dominionists philosophy and the Seven Mountain strategy—see those standing up to maintain this separation as the foot-soldiers in the war on Jesus.  When arguing the rhetoric in the graphic at the top of this piece, they see themselves as God-anointed patriots when, in fact, they are looking to destroy one of the fundamental founding principles of this nation.

It is really hard to peer directly into the minds of men dead for more than 200 years.  My tendency is to judge most Founding Fathers on the two I am most familiar with—my direct ancestor Lewis Morris who signed the Declaration of Independence and his half-brother Gouverneur who wrote a good portion of the US Constitution including the Preamble and coining the “We the People” phrase. Lewis was certainly a Christian with his wife’s grandmother Maria Beekman Walton being the direct descendant of Reverend Gerardus Beekman a German theologian whose family coat of arms was changed (see here) by King James I for his part in translating the Bible for that monarch.  The fact of that role and the meaning of the two added roses on the coat of arms may be largely lost to time for most, but I suspect it was not so for Lewis and Mary Walton Morris as Maria’s father (once governor of New York) was named for Gerardus and Maria lived near her family until after the US Constitution was ratified.  Gouverneur Morris’ mother Sarah was a Huguenot whose family fled from France to Holland and then eventually to the Colonies because of their adherence to the principles of their faith.

James Graham's close kinsman (there is a debate as to how close) James Graham, the 1st Marquess of Montrose, suffered a terrible fate for opposing English forces.  
Both Lewis and Gouverneur also shared descent from James Graham and Captain Richard Morris whose daughter Isabella and son Lewis I married in late 1691.  Graham and Morris are important historically, but they also provide a lesson in the consequences of the changing of political and religious winds.  James Graham was a Scot born in Montrose whose close kinsman of the same name paid an extremely heavy price for his part fighting against English forces during the complicated time when Cromwell was coming into power.  (It is important to note here that The Great Montrose, as the senior Graham was know, was a proponent of the separation of Church and State.)  Captain Morris, on the other hand, was a Welshman who heroically led troops in support of Cromwell and the New Model Army.  Yet they both left their homelands and came to the colonies to avoid being impacted by the destructive and disrupting swinging pendulum of their respective times.  Richard died before experiencing it again, but James who sailed to America with incoming Governor Edmund Andros on the Blossom was imprisoned for a time when Andros was swept out of power only to return to a position of authority as the pendulum swung once again.

Given the above and the educated nature of the two Morris brothers it would be hard to imagine them pushing for or signing off on any form of governance that did not simultaneously protect all religious practices and at the same time dampen the impact of this swinging pendulum that was frequently driven by religious differences.  The solution was to create a government that established freedom of religion, separated religious influence from civil governance, and operated in a manner benefiting the citizenry rather than the royalty or some other elite class.  The US Constitution defined those rights—including freedom of religion—and set up a structure for protecting those rights which included this wall between the religious aspects of our lives (if we have them), and our civil government.

Mr. Martinez and his compatriots need to take a deep breath and study some of the delicate and elegant balance built by the Founding Fathers rather than the revisionist’s versions provided by pseudo-historian David Barton and his allies.  These people should understand that the balance does not work well or at all when the fat-thumb of one religious perspective pushes down denying the rights of others who differ from them in beliefs or practices.  Through this they would come to understand that the idea of a War on Christianity becomes decidedly un-robust when one is looking at the hateful graffiti sprayed on their Mosque or Synagogue, digging through the ashes of where they once received affordable health care, or finding in some states that they cannot fully express their love in their own fashion or even have a public pot to pee in.  Viewed though this latter lens this wispy war on Christianity quickly becomes what it really is: an organized attack on America and long-standing American values.