Sunday, June 7

Busting Open the Christian Nation Myth

This weekend Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who was forced to leave his post due to an scandal with infidelity) spoke for three hours in Virginia and "Rediscover God in America" and in the midst of his talk actually claimed that American are now "Surrounded by Paganism - as if that is somehow a bad thing.

GINGRICH: I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.

He along with other speakers such as Mike Huckabee also railed against...

the continuing availability of abortion, the spread of gay rights, and attempts to remove religion from American public life and school history books.

Yes, he attacked abortion just days after a tragic abortion murder. Way to root for the good guys Newt. He claimed, like a great many American Theocrats that America is a "Christian Nation" and ties that argument back to the Declaration of Independence.

Gingrich, now a consultant and author, said the ties to religion in American government date to the Declaration of Independence, when Thomas Jefferson wrote that men are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights.

It is true he wrote that, but what he didn't write - what was specifically left out was exactly "Which God (or other form of Creator)" he was talking about.

Newt is allegedly a student of History, but in a recent Dkos post another Historian, one far from being so high profile as Newt, broke down the true origins of American Religiousity in a response to a Theocrat Relative - and it's nothing like what Gingrich and Huckabee describe.

First in response to a blast email which lists all the state Preambles which mention "Almighty God" our heroine Laine presented the Treaty of Tripoli.

Art. 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 tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.

Authored by American diplomat Joel Barlow in 1796, the treaty was sent to the floor of the Senate, June 7, 1797, where it was read aloud in its entirety and unanimously approved. John Adams, having seen the treaty, signed it and proudly proclaimed it to the Nation. (Worth noting that we have not lived up to those words.)

This nation was founded on freedom of religion for ALL- not just Christians. The Preamble for Oregon says:

Oregon 1857, Bill of Rights, Article I Section 2. All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences

The dictates of my conscience, not yours.

The response from her theocrat aunt was pretty much what you'd expect, a personal attack laced with accusations against a long dead parent for their failings in raising such an "Anti-God" Child. To this Laine responded with something I think every person who is confronted with this type of rabid Christo-Facism should have memorized.

~The settlers who came here from England in the 17th century came for various reasons; some as entrepreneurs, some looking for land of their own, some for religious reasons. The latter are the ones we usually think of- hardy Pilgrims coming to the new land for religious freedom. Except not quite- those coming from England came because they held to faith other than the Church of England (Anglican, here in the States we call them Episcopalians). They did not come for freedom, per se. They came to establish a community where their sect would be the official Church. The various early Colonies were a mish-mash of different sects. What was a legal religion in one might be outlawed in another. (Don't believe me? Read up about Ann Hutchinson or Roger Williams- they were both expelled from Massachusetts for failing to toe the Puritan party line.)

~The Founders (who signed the Declaration of Independence) and the Framers (those who helped draft the Constitution) were a very interesting group of men. They came from all walks of life, and all sorts of backgrounds, ethnic and religious. The greatest number of them were Episcopalians, and there were also Presbyterians, Congregationalists, a few Methodists, Lutherans, etc. There were also several Deists- among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin (though Franklin would occasionally cop to being basically agnostic).

~I have to explain here what 'Deism' is. Deism is a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme god created the universe, and that this and other religious truth can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without the need for faith. Deists generally reject the notion of divine interventions in human affairs - such as by miracles and revelations. It is a handy vague vision of God than excludes no one.

~Now, go back to the Colonies and their disparate religions. One of the difficulties in putting together any federation of the colonies was the religious issue. And this is why the various documents that stitch together our country refer only vaguely to a non-specific God. Because they are trying to avoid what we would now call a Balkanization along religious lines. By using the very vague Deistic references, they can go honor to God without invoking sectarian conflict. (Pretty smart guys, those Founders.)

If you were to adopt the Christianity of the original settlers - ignoring the existing religion of the Native American's who had already been here for countless centuries - the State Religion of the United States would most likely be Puritan. Or maybe Quaker.

These sects who fled English shores for America to avoid being persecuted by the Church Of England (C.O.E.) aka Anglican. That Church itself only came into existence as an offshoot of the Catholic Church when King Henry VIII (now made slightly more famous by Showtime's The Tudors) wanted to be able to divorce his first wife Catherine, but was barred from doing so by the Roman Pope.

In forming the C.O.E. Henry made himself it's Pope, and then proceeded to divorce and/or behead 6 several more wives. In the meanwhile he made it an act of Treason to oppose and criticize his action in splitting with Rome, yet one Protestant author named Dr. William Tyndale did criticize Henry and was eventually executed for it. Reportedly as he died he exclaimed, just as he was strangled to death and later burned at the stake - "Lord! Open" the King of England's eyes!"

So yet again we see the problem and the danger of "Which God" the Declaration and various Preambles describe, is it the Catholic/Protestant/ Anglican/Episcopalian/Puritan/Quaker/Jewish/Muslim "God" that Thomas Jefferson was referring to? Since he himself was a Deist, the not so simple answer is All of Them and also none of them.

The point was the allow the Freedom to persue the Religion of our individual choice, but not to attempt to force that choice upon others. America is designed to specifically NOT to have a single Church authorized for the state or else we may face the type of orthodox religious wrath that befell Dr. Tyndale.

Or for that matter, Dr. George Tiller.


1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Speaking as a moderate Christian, what most conservative Christians forget is that church and state was established not just to project non-Christians but Christians from being religiously coerced. Many other people came to this country for precisely this reason, so they could worship as they pleased, without a government telling them what they had to believe. We need to keep speaking out against their twisted version of history, so thanks for your report.