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Southern Baptists
April 18, 2003 5:31 AM   Subscribe

An Insider's Look
at the Southern Baptist wing of the Republican party. How religion and politics became so entwined and how fundamentalists took control of a major American denomination.

The Southern Baptist fundamentalists conquered their denomination; they have every reason to hope the Bush administration will make over the world in their image.
...
The separation of church and state, long central to Baptists, is of little interest to the fundamentalists: In 1998, Richard Land, at a strategy meeting with Republicans and members of the religious right, told the Republicans, "No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

posted by nofundy (47 comments total)

 
Well, at least they're open to nontraditional marraiges.
posted by PrinceValium at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2003


If they consummate the marriage, who's on top?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:51 AM on April 18, 2003


State must "graciously submit" and be the bottom. (After all, they're calling for more religion in government, not vice-versa.)
posted by ptermit at 6:59 AM on April 18, 2003


I want a divorce.
posted by wobh at 7:17 AM on April 18, 2003


Well, that, without a doubt, is the most factual, reliable piece I have ever seen at informationclearinghouse.com. Usually their stuff is no better than whatreallyhappened.com, but this piece is impressive. Good find, nofundy. This is one of the best short explanations of what's going on in the White House that I've seen.
posted by jbrjake at 8:06 AM on April 18, 2003


I'm glad Bush thinks he's somehow buying himself some real estate in Heaven by killing his fellow man. "I'm not dry-drunk - I'm Baptist!"
posted by FormlessOne at 8:31 AM on April 18, 2003


Yeah, that article was about as "factual" as Mein Kampf was an accurate portrait of the Weimar Republic! Bush does claim to be born again, yet also claims to be a Methodist and attends an Episcopal service regularly, none of that proves any allegiance whatsoever with the Southern Baptist Convention. The "facts" in this article are circumstantial speculation and baseless connections. The Baptists control the government about as much as the Illuminati, the Masons and the Jews.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2003


There's an excellent documentary called "Battle For The Minds" that details the takeover of the southern baptist church and the effects it had on of the members of the church.

Well worth seeking out and disturbingly relevant to national politics in America.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:42 AM on April 18, 2003


There have only been 4 Baptist Presidents, the only time we had a Republican Baptist President was 80 years ago before Harding kicked off. The last two Baptist Presidents were Clinton and Carter. Could it be more obvious that there is a VAST Baptist/Right-Wing conspiracy at work here! If you still need more, there have only been 3 Baptist Vice-Presidents and the last one of those was Al Gore. Although Dan Quayle' "Interdenominational Fundamentalist" listing is a little scary.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:04 AM on April 18, 2003


As a philosophical aside, I think Americans see two words used by politicians as "code words." When a politician talks about "ethics", he is talking about the law; when he talks about "morality", he is talking about *his denominations* sectarian principles.
The former is a tacit endorsement of "separation of church and state", while the latter means "I'm gonna try to put into law something I heard in church."

Which is why most people tend to get itchy when a politician talks "morality." Who knows what his imam or shaman preaches to him?
posted by kablam at 9:10 AM on April 18, 2003


Great article nofundy, thanks - it helps to understand the back room forces at work. It certainly explains the Ahab-like obsession to push forward to war despite world opinion.

The continued breakdown between church and state is most worrisome to me, and one only needs to visit governmental sites to watch it in action. This is one woman who is not prepared to graciously submit.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:11 AM on April 18, 2003


*scratches yet another fantasy off the list*
posted by Cyrano at 9:41 AM on April 18, 2003


February 12, 2003
George Bush's Theology: Does President Believe He Has Divine Mandate? by Deborah Caldwell, Religion News Service

"Presidents have always used Scripture in their speeches as a source of poetry and morality, according to Michael Waldman, President Clinton's chief speechwriter, author of "POTUS Speaks" and now a visiting professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

...Bush is different, because he uses theology as the guts of his argument. "That's very unusual in the long sweep of American history," Waldman says. "

posted by madamjujujive at 9:47 AM on April 18, 2003


when he talks about "morality", he is talking about *his denominations* sectarian principles.

it helps to understand the back room forces at work

Perhaps you once again might have missed the fact that the President lists himself as a member of the United Methodist Church A House Resolution asking that we be mindful of world events and (as was done many times before in our national history) asks of the President to ask the people to remember all the craziness in the world during our time of war through prayer, fasting and humbleness, is hardly the complete dismantling of the doctrine of separation of church and state!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:55 AM on April 18, 2003


Wow, what a great article. The most well thought out and through explanation of what is going on right now.

I am constantly amazed at fundamentalist's of every kind. Their ability to convince themselves that it's okay to kill even though their own religion says it's wrong. But they are completely and unshakably sure they are doing the right thing. Their reasoning falls apart with even a little questioning, which may explain why it's so important to our current government to silence dissenters.
posted by bas67 at 10:01 AM on April 18, 2003


Pollomacho: But Clinton and family attended the church of his wife, a liberal Methodist, while in D.C. Carter, meanwhile, no longer considers himself a Southern Baptist.
posted by raysmj at 10:03 AM on April 18, 2003


But if Bush's government imposes restrictions on aid to NGOs who don't adhere to certain conservative "Christian" doctrine, appoints an Attorney General who is borderline fundamentalist (as the naked statue incident sadly illustrates), and, as the article suggests, uses scripture as the "guts" of his foreign policy, is that a sign that the doctrine of separation between Church and State is in trouble?
posted by sic at 10:06 AM on April 18, 2003


The only thing that scares me more than corporate control of government and a fundamentalist religious group controlling government is both of them doing it at once.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:22 AM on April 18, 2003


If I ever have to "graciously submit" to a man, he end up wishing he never met me.
posted by aacheson at 10:53 AM on April 18, 2003


"No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

"We now consecrate the bond of obedience. Assume the position."

Those of you who remember the movie will also remember the position these idiots want America to assume.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:43 AM on April 18, 2003


"Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with Bush every day."
posted by homunculus at 1:18 PM on April 18, 2003


"Conservative fundamentalists with close ties to President Bush are planning a new missionary push in Iraq -- and they might already be converting U.S. troops to their cause."
posted by homunculus at 1:21 PM on April 18, 2003


While the article is interesting, I don't think it proves its thesis that there is some vast Southern Baptist conspiracy to turn the White House into some kind of fundamentalist clubhouse. Look, if you buy that, then you'd have to buy all the ludicrous claims that Republicans made about Clinton's ties to all kinds of whacky interest groups.

The bottom line is that Rove knows who Bush's base is, and he's done all he can to keep them interested, just like Carville did with Clinton. But Bush is no Gary Bauer (or Alan Keyes or Pat Buchanan, who were all much more fundamentalist than Bush).
posted by marcusb at 1:44 PM on April 18, 2003


"An Insider's Look at the Southern Baptist wing of the Republican party"

Well, of course (as has already been mentioned) it was Clinton and Gore that were Southern Baptists, not Bush.

...Bush is different, because he uses theology as the guts of his argument. "That's very unusual in the long sweep of American history," Waldman says. "

Odd that a Clinton crony wouldn't have read "Earth In The Balance" by 'ol Mr. Internet - in which faith is placed at the center of both his environmentalism and politics. Or that apparently the "long sweep of American history" ignores the entire first century or so of American history, in which it was quite common for Presidents to use theology as the guts of their arguments. But these folks have a desperate need to try to claim Bush is some outrageous, unprecedented exception to every tradition.

What we actually have here is the "Bush=Evil" post du jour. As formulaic at this point as an NBC sitcom. A single article, from an extreme left website, hand-picking facts and quotes, claiming to know what's "really" going on "behind the scenes", exposing the "power brokers". Then a few folks will chime in, oooohing and aaahing about how their eyes have been opened by this profound insight, and they now understand the real horrible truth - which in today's charming case is apparently that Bush "really" went to war on Iraq for the sake of, well, er, apparently a voting bloc.

But shall we examine how religion affects the other side? Can't we have as much fun with that? We must start, of course, with the infamous Al Sharpton. (Odd how in a post worrying about preachers affecting Presidents, there was no concern - or even, indeed, a mention - about a preacher that is running for President).

Gore, of course, while profoundly religious, certainly also was open to other faiths besides his own.

And what about that fellow who has long been present at the Democratic table? The irrepressible Jesse Jackson, who often advised and fellowshipped with Clinton on matters of faith. Strangely enough, maybe the religious folks Presidents are advised by do have an effect on their actions in the oval office.
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:49 PM on April 18, 2003


Odd that a Clinton crony wouldn't have read "Earth In The Balance" by 'ol Mr. Internet -

Big Whopper? Check.

in which faith is placed at the center of both his environmentalism and politics.

Big Whopper #2? Check.

Or that apparently the "long sweep of American history" ignores the entire first century or so of American history, in which it was quite common for Presidents to use theology as the guts of their arguments.
If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.

George Washington,
letter to the United Baptist Chamber
of Virginia, May 1789

As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?

John Adams,
letter to F.A. Van der Kamp,
December 27, 1816

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

Thomas Jefferson,
Notes on the State of Virginia,
1781-82

Big Whopper #3? Check

Let's see, arrogant and dismissive tone? Check.
posted by y2karl at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2003


My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.

Abraham Lincoln,
to Judge J. S. Wakefield,
after Willie Lincoln's death in 1862
posted by y2karl at 3:20 PM on April 18, 2003


What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient allies.

James Madison,
A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,
addressed to the Virginia General Assemby, June 20, 1785
posted by y2karl at 3:27 PM on April 18, 2003


What we actually have here is the "Bush=Evil" post du jour. As formulaic at this point as an NBC sitcom. A single article, from an extreme left website, hand-picking facts and quotes, claiming to know what's "really" going on "behind the scenes", exposing the "power brokers". Then a few folks will chime in, oooohing and aaahing about how their eyes have been opened by this profound insight, and they now understand the real horrible truth - which in today's charming case is apparently that Bush "really" went to war on Iraq for the sake of, well, er, apparently a voting bloc.

If you want to walk into a room and scream at the top of your lungs, don't then claim that no one answers you with calm, intelligent conversation ... and don't be surprised if they don't scream back - but rather point out that you are screaming.
posted by y2karl at 3:32 PM on April 18, 2003


I have to say that this filter has shown me new levels of amusement at debate.
posted by rudyfink at 3:39 PM on April 18, 2003


...Odd how in a post worrying about preachers affecting Presidents, there was no concern - or even, indeed, a mention - about a preacher that is running for President).

maybe it's because it's old news? have you forgotten about this republican that ran for president back in 1988?
posted by amberglow at 6:23 PM on April 18, 2003


...Odd how in a post worrying about preachers affecting Presidents, there was no concern - or even, indeed, a mention - about a preacher that is running for President).

maybe it's because it's old news? have you forgotten about this republican that ran for president back in 1988?


Old news? Robertson is old news. Sharpton is in the running for the Democratic nomination for the upcoming 2004 elections - just about as current as you can get.

Odd that innuendos about dark secret conspiracies between Republicans and Southern Baptists are relevant to the discussion of religion affecting politics, but a far left, radical preacher that is trying to become an actual candidate - with the right to speak at the Democratic convention, and participate in writing the platform, apparently isn't.

No, it's not because it's "old news", it's because this post is not about religion in public life, it's about Bush=Evil.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:43 PM on April 18, 2003


Odd that a Clinton crony wouldn't have read "Earth In The Balance" by 'ol Mr. Internet -
Big Whopper? Check.


Er, so it's an "Urban Legend" that Al Gore wrote "Earth In The Balance"?

(Completely irrelevant argument/link? Check.)

in which faith is placed at the center of both his environmentalism and politics.
Big Whopper #2? Check.


It's an "Urban Legend" that "Earth In The Balance" is a huge mishmash of religion/spirituality/environmentalism & politics? That it does, in fact, exactly what the guy claims Bush alone in the "long sweep of American history" does ... derives his political positions from spiritual beliefs? Have you read the thing? In it, we find him saying that "the more deeply I search for the roots of the global environmental crisis, the more I am convinced that it is an outer manifestation of an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, spiritual." ... and this "Sacred Earth" argument is the cornerstone of his core organizing principle for civilization in the New World Order— to make "the rescue of the environment" paramount by "embarking on an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every plan and course of action—to use, in short, every means to halt the destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological system." (p. 274)

(Completely irrelevant argument/link #2? Check.)

Or that apparently the "long sweep of American history" ignores the entire first century or so of American history, in which it was quite common for Presidents to use theology as the guts of their arguments.

If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.
George Washington,
letter to the United Baptist Chamber
of Virginia, May 1789

Big Whopper #3? Check


Okay - how's about a wee bit of Logic 101? If I say that it is quite common to find robins in Central Park in the summer, posting a picture of a duck doesn't answer or refute the claim ... and it doesn't matter whether you post one picture of a duck, or three, or three hundred.

(Completely irrelevant argument #3? Check).

Let's see, arrogant and dismissive tone? Check.

Odd that you, of all people, would would write that at the end of a post that was little other than arrogant and dismissive.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:18 PM on April 18, 2003


Midas
I think you must have finally set the record for "missing the point".
posted by bas67 at 7:52 PM on April 18, 2003


Odd that a Clinton crony wouldn't have read "Earth In The Balance" by 'ol Mr. Internet -

Er, so it's an "Urban Legend" that Al Gore wrote "Earth In The Balance"?

No, the whopper to which I referred was Mr. Internet. another right wing talk radio lie--like Hillary Clinton channeling Eleanor Roosevelt--which you love to repeat, albeit by innuendo this time.

For a guy who is always howling about how Bush=Evil, you love to repeat this phony Clinton=Evil crap. While I have no love for George W. Bush, I don't buy or repeat similar crap like he's a dry drunk. (I would link to my comment in the appropriate thread but I keep getting an error.) I don't like his policies. The demonizing stuff I leave to the hotheads... like you.

Although it's hardly a fair and balanced an interpretation of Gore's book which you make, I erred in my second point. You may continue to grind your personal ax there.

Or that apparently the "long sweep of American history" ignores the entire first century or so of American history, in which it was quite common for Presidents to use theology as the guts of their arguments.

You are very vague here, Midas. You claim our founding fathers quoted scripture, used theological frames for their intellectual disquisitions and seem to imply they were a devout lot, which they most definitely were not. You avoid acknowledging that they were not particularly religious men, let alone Christians. Certainly Lincoln exceptionally used scriptural language for effect in speeches but he was an agnostic, not a religious church goer. And given your Masonic background plus your affection for Ayn Rand, for you to make this devious argument seems disingenuous. Unless you are making a stealth argument that G.W. Bush is just another secular unbeliever playing his religous base like a harp. That is a view with which I am not disinclined to agree.

And when it comes to arrogant and dismissive--as I said before--that is more your forte, Mr. Clinton=Evil. Pot kettle and so forth.
posted by y2karl at 9:19 PM on April 18, 2003


Throughout all of MM's disingenuous tirades (prepared speeches?), I mean posts, all one needed to read was this early sentence and then read no more:

Odd that a Clinton crony wouldn't have read "Earth In The Balance" by 'ol Mr. Internet

If MM is as websavvy and plugged in as membership at MeFi pretty much corequisites, he knows that this is an obvious duplicitous canard.

Let's hear it from snopes.com

This sentence from MidasMulligan is all one needs to underscore the point that MM is disingenuous and argues for mere noise making's sake. He can't even stay on topic. Ol Mr. Internet indeed. MidasMulligan argues from a bedrock of nothing more than shifting meanings, tried and true (desperate) strong arm rhetorical tactics and his generally assumed status here at MeFi is as some sort of a CEO of a lower Manhattan firm who witnessed the tragedy of 9-11 first hand.

Color me skeptical.
posted by crasspastor at 9:55 PM on April 18, 2003


Um, I just linked that page to make that very point.
posted by y2karl at 10:38 PM on April 18, 2003


It might be too late for this in this thread, and it's not a subject I can talk coherently about, but I have a question:

To what extent are these religious voices that have the ear of the White House Calvinist? In particular, I'm interested in whether they place the doctrine of predestination - or more to the point Election - high on their agenda. My understanding of comparative Protestantism isn't great, and to be honest reading the resources on the internet makes my head hurt.

However, I've recently been reminded of something I learned in History at school - that the Lutherans (and that Catholics and pretty much everyone else as far as I can tell) believed that you earned your place in Heaven with good works, but that the Calvinists believed that if you were going to Heaven, it had been decided at the beginning of time and it was merely the power of God's grace that would force you to do good things.

The implication of this for me is two-fold: Firstly, such a belief structure would posit that there were innately good and evil people, that an evil person was evil from birth (this seems to stand behind the debate in things like PKD's Minority Report or the fantasy about killing Hitler as a baby), rather than the view that there are not good or bad people so much as good or bad actions.

Secondly, and stemming from that, is the notion that "goodness" does not work outside inwards - our moral status improving with what the Buddhists call "Right Action", but rather it emanates outwards from appointed Agents of Goodness, as it were. The implication of this is that any action these Agents of Goodness make is by definition a good one, even if it's apparantly a repugnant one.

If you are already one of the Elect, you can do pretty much what you want (because there's the assumption that you would only want to do 'good" things).

I'm quite prepared to accept that I've got the wrong end of the stick, but that model does seem to fit certain aspects of U.S. policy, particularly on the Right (although it covers some Left wing ideology as well, I think).

If I'm right, (and it's a big if, I must admit), then that's very scary indeed.

Anybody?
posted by Grangousier at 12:50 AM on April 19, 2003


Oh shit y2karl. I see that now.

I had the mefi window minimized for awhile as I did other things. The thread progressed more quickly than I'd thought. And then I left for the night. Definitely not trying to steal your thunder. . .
posted by crasspastor at 4:54 AM on April 19, 2003


Grangrousier, you may want to read an article that appeared in the March Harper's Magazine calle Jesus Plus Nothing - Undercovering America's Secret Theocrats by Jeffrey Sharlet. If true, it is terribly chilling.

The Family is, in its own words, an "invisible" association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as "members," as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

...and another excerpt along the lines of the thinking you describe:

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. "Isn't that great?" David said. "That's the way everything in life happens. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world. It's about vision. 'Get your vision straight, then relate.' Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that, but of the world." Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan's vast, reclaimable empire.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:44 AM on April 19, 2003


Or that apparently the "long sweep of American history" ignores the entire first century or so of American history, in which it was quite common for Presidents to use theology as the guts of their arguments.

With respect at least to the founding fathers, Midas Mulligan is absolutely correct. The tenants of Christianity were consciously used as the "guts" underlying several major elements of our government, such as: the separation of powers, the social contract, and inalienable human rights. I've addressed this point extensively on MeFi before: see this, for example.

More to the point, y2karl's examples are specious and designed (though doubtless not by y2karl) to mislead. Our founding fathers were intelligent, complex men; let's not assume we can sum up the entirety of their views of the interplay between religion and politics by examining one statement. Let's begin, as you do, with George Washington, remembering that the issue is not what Washington believed, but whether and to what extent he and other presidents used theology as the basis of their political arguments. You provide a statement from Washington promising to safeguard religious liberty. Now let's examine why he argued in favor of that protection:

I also give it in charge to you to avoid all disrespect of the religion of the country, and its ceremonies. Prudence, policy, and a true Christian spirit will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors without insulting them. While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience of others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case are they answerable.

-- Washington, Letter to Colonel Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1775.

You next move on to John Adams. But, again, the quote that you provide is irrelevant, because it deals with Adams' view of organized religion, rather than his willingness to use theology (in general) in defense of his politics. In 1811, Adams wrote to Benjamin Rush that "religion and virtue are the only foundations, not only of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all the combinations of human society". Similarly, after his appointment as joint commissioner to France, Adams became convinced that republican government would never work in France, and he opposed the French Revolution long before many Americans were aware of its excesses. Why? Because he was concerned with what would happen to "a republic of thirty million atheists," because the French would end up with "no equal laws, no personal liberty, no property, no lives." (Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 19, 1790). Similarly, when Condorcet delineated "natural equality of mankind" as the foundation of all morality, Adams declared: There is no such thing without a supposition of a God. There is no right or wrong in the universe without the supposition of a moral government and an intellectual and moral governor. (Adams, handwritten comments on his copy of Condorcet's "Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind"). And when Wollstonecraft spoke of national morality, Adams asked: Whence is this morality to come? If the Christian religion and all the power of government has never produced it, what will? Yet this mad woman is for destroying the Christian religion. (Adams, handwritten notes on his copy of "Historical and Moral view of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution").

(NB: With respect to your above quotation: even that is a vastly incomplete picture of Adams' emerging view of Christianity. Just a few months before becoming President, Adams wrote in his personal diary that "The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and Humanity".)


You next discuss Jefferson. Let's look at Jefferson's argument against slavery:

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, and exchange of situation (between slaves and masters), is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with us in such a contest.

-- Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on the State of Virginia", 1781.

Jefferson on natural human rights:

The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time... Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that those liberties are the gift of God?

(NB: Jefferson, from whom the phrase "separation of church and state" comes, did not believe that there should be no interaction between church and state. On three occasions, President Jefferson signed into law federal land grants specifically to promote proselytizing among native American Indians. In 1803, Jefferson proposed to the US Senate (and got them to ratify) a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians in which the federal government was to "give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest" and "further give the sum of three dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of the church". It's also instructive to note that Jefferson opposed nationally-sponsored days of prayer as President, but supported them as governor of Virginia).

But now let's move on to other founding fathers. John Jay, for example. In discussing the death penalty, he said this:

The depravity which mankind inherited from their first parents, introduced wickedness into the world. That wickedness rendered human government necessary to restrain the violence and injustice resulting from it. To facilitate the establishment and administration of government, the human race became, in the course of Providence, divided into separate and distinct nations. Every nation instituted a government, with authority and power to protect it against domestic and foreign aggressions... It certainly was not the design of the law or ordinance in question, to encourage a spirit of personal or private revenge. On the contrary, there are express injunctions in the law of Moses which inculcate a very different spirit, such as these: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"...

-- John Jay, in a letter to John Murray, April 15, 1818.


Or let's look at Hamilton.

Good and wise men, in all ages... have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself, and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institutions whatever... [These] sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

-- Alexander Hamilton, "The Farmer Refuted", 1775.

This is all far from a rigorous demonstration. But I think it makes the point.
posted by gd779 at 8:20 AM on April 19, 2003


But I think it makes the point.

The point in this entire discussion is about imposing belief systems upon others in order to establish a voter base of fundamentalists.
While it is useful to discuss other aspects of religion and government the more immediate concern is critical enough to overwhelm any arguments contrary to the truth that Rove and Co. wish to leverage fundies to their advantage and in the process allow said fundies an unparalled voice in our political process.
posted by nofundy at 6:05 PM on April 19, 2003


...The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

...Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.


John Adams
A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

Nothing but free argument, raillery and even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion

Thomas Jefferson
Notes on Religion, 1776

Question with boldness even the existence of a god.
Thomas Jefferson
letter to Peter Carr,
August 10, 1787

In some of the delightful conversations with you in the evenings of 1798-99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and 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 and 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 in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other. At the short interval since these conversations, when I could justifiably abstract my mind from public affairs, the subject has been under my contemplation. But the more I considered it, the more it expanded beyond the measure of either my time or information. In the moment of my late departure from Monticello, I received from Dr. Priestley his little treatise of "Socrates and Jesus Compared." This being a section of the general view I had taken of the field, it became a subject of reflection while on the road and unoccupied otherwise. The result was, to arrange in my mind a syllabus or outline of such an estimate of the comparative merits of Christianity as I wished to see executed by someone of more leisure and information for the task than myself. This I now send you as the only discharge of my promise I can probably ever execute. And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience which the laws have so justly proscribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith which the laws have left between God and himself. Accept my affectionate salutations.

Thomas Jefferson
Letter To Dr. Benjamin Rush.
April 21, 1803

...But while this syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in its true and high light, as no impostor Himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with Him in all His doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin; I require counterpoise of good works to redeem it, etc., etc. It is the innocence of His character, the purity and sublimity of His moral precepts, the eloquence of His inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which He conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes, indeed, needing indulgence to eastern hyperbolism. My eulogies, too, may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among the sayings and discourses imputed to Him by His biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to Him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of His disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of His doctrines, led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that His past composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The syllabus is therefore of His doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other ancient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and dissent...

Thomas Jefferson
Letter To William Short on the syllabus to the Jefferson Bible
Monticello, April 13, 1820

The finiteness of the human understanding betrays itself on all subjects, but more especially when it contemplates such as involve infinity. What may safely be said seems to be, that the infinity of time & space forces itself on our conception, a limitation of either being inconceivable; that the mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect, which augments, instead of avoiding the difficulty; and that it finds more facility in assenting to the self-existence of an invisible cause possessing infinite power, wisdom & goodness, than to the self-existence of the universe, visibly destitute of those attributes, and which may be the effect of them. In this comparative facility of conception & belief, all philosophical Reasoning on the subject must perhaps terminate. But that I may not get farther beyond my depth, and without the resources which bear you up in fathoming efforts, I hasten to thank you for the favour which has made me your debtor, and to assure you of my esteem & my respectful regards.

James Madison
Letter to Frederick Beasley
Nov. 20, 1825

(When) the (Virginia) bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protections of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantel of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

Thomas Jefferson
from his autobiography, 1821

an excerpt from Sugar and Paper
Chapter 6 of Benjamin Franklin And His Gods

Adam Kissel lists the evolution of Franklin's thoughts on the topic of religion and his Benjamin Franklin's Vital Religion is interesting. I have seen Franklin's self description as being a Deist of the heart before but did not know he said of relgion that it raises the temperature of political discourse--but it's a point with which I would agree.

This is all far from a rigorous demonstration. But I think it makes the point right back--the views of the founding fathers on religion were more complex than either of us has initially made them out to be.

You have addressed this topic before, as I have noted, and you have an obvious bias. Your examples citing Jefferson's public pronouncements were especially specious as they were designed to mislead as to the nature of his personal beliefs.

I found MidasMulligan's formulation a bit disingenuous--the founding fathers spoke in theological terms, blah blah and so forth. I guess my lazy and sloppy point was that this did not mean they were exactly Christians in the received opinion of their times or ours. Your remarks The tenants of Christianity were consciously used as the "guts" underlying several major elements of our government, such as: the separation of powers, the social contract, and inalienable human rights. put words in Midas mouth, in my opinion. He and I differ on matters of politics but I understand his views on religion to be idiosyncretistic and sophisticated, so I don't see him saying what you claim. He was defending President Bush from what he saw as a heavy handed attack. I questioned his formulation. You, with your own ax to grind, spun it again.

I take issue with his heavy handed attacks on Gore--the fundraiser at the Buddhist Temple is another canard, for example. But, as you can see, the smears are easy and simple--uncovering the facts from the smears takes more work ...and honesty.

I really wish I had not written in such a heat and gotten some things wrong but I do get annoyed with Midas when he insists on dragging out these phony talk radio smears over and over and over.
posted by y2karl at 7:41 PM on April 19, 2003


the views of the founding fathers on religion were more complex than either of us has initially made them out to be.

You mistake me. It was never my intention to describe the religious beliefs of any founding father. That's why I said that the issue was "not what Washington believed, but whether and to what extent he and other Presidents used theology as the basis of their political arguments."

My point, which remains uncontested, was merely to show that Waldman was wrong. Using theology to substantially support political arguments is hardly unique to the Bush administration.

Your examples citing Jefferson's public pronouncements were especially specious as they were designed to mislead as to the nature of his personal beliefs.

Your "cute" reuse of my words notwithstanding, the quotations I selected from Jefferson merely indicated that he was a Deist. Which he was.

You seem to be fixated on the question of whether the ff's as a group were mostly Christian, or Deist, or what have you. To this I will only tiredly note, as I have before, that arguments for the predominance of deism among the ff's are always supported by the exact same handful of examples. You'd think that Jefferson, Adams, et al fought the British all by themselves.

No, on second thought, I'll also refer you to the writings of Perry Miller, Professor of History at Harvard University, and - if it matters - an atheist:

Actually, European deism was an exotic plant in America, which never struck roots in the soil. "Rationalism" was never so widespread as liberal historians, or those fascinated by Jefferson, have imagined. The basic fact is that the Revolution had been preached to the masses as a religious revival, and had the astounding fortune to succeed.

-- Perry Miller, Nature's Nation, p. 110
posted by gd779 at 9:28 PM on April 19, 2003


That's why I said that the issue was "not what Washington believed, but whether and to what extent he and other Presidents used theology as the basis of their political arguments."

Biefore the Constitution was written, 11 of 13 states limited public offices to Christians, and in some cases, members of select Protestant denominations only. The Constitutional Convention, however voted down all such qualifications, and created the First Amendment, separating church and state, which has been the rule from then until today.

The founding fathers, whatever their religious beliefs, created a nation where Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, animists and followers of Santeria have exactly the same rights as any other citizen, Christian, agnostic or athiest. Codified religious liberty was so revolutionary and far ahead of its time that the First Amendment was and is the most admired part of the Constitution all over the world.

All the preaching about preaching cannot obfuscate this fact one whit. Whether the founding fathers used theological language or scriptural quotes is beside the point--if they wanted to create a Christian nation, they would have done so. They most explicitly did not. It's wasn't made the First Amendment for nothing.
posted by y2karl at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2003


And since MM's quotes of Gore's book seem to come straight from the Cato Institute and any number of right wing Christian Clinton(and therefor Gore)=Evil obsessivesites, let me add this review of Earth in The Balance.
posted by y2karl at 10:36 AM on April 20, 2003


Codified religious liberty was so revolutionary and far ahead of its time that the First Amendment was and is the most admired part of the Constitution all over the world.

It's wasn't made the First Amendment for nothing.

Do'h! Would that I had not been so full of rhetorical flourish. Oh, God... OK, OK, Religous liberty was part of the First Amendment--there was that little old free speech thingy in there, too. And It's wasn't--Ack! I must reread when I write and rewrite these things...
posted by y2karl at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2003


Thanks, madamjujujive. Fascinating stuff. I do find it pretty scary - it's not so much that there are people of strong religious conviction with so much power, but it's the nature of that belief that I find worrying - a combination of absolute self-justification and (as far as I can tell) no philosophical meat whatsoever.
posted by Grangousier at 3:34 PM on April 20, 2003


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