Found this great essay by University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone over at ACSBlog, and I thought it might be of interest to some readers here. In short, no Mitt, Jesus didn’t write the Constitution. Pardon the longish quote, but it’s worth the read. Then click the link and go read the rest of the piece, which gets even better.
That version of history suggests that the Founders intended to create a â€œChristian Nation,â€ and that we have unfortunately drifted away from that vision of the United States. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Those who promote this fiction confuse the Puritans, who intended to create a theocratic state, with the Founders, who lived 150 years later. The Founders were not Puritans, but men of the Enlightenment. They lived not in an Age of Faith, but in an Age of Reason. They viewed issues of religion through a prism of rational thought.
Benjamin Franklin, for example, dismissed most of Christian doctrine as â€œunintelligible.â€ He believed in a deity who â€œdelightsâ€ in manâ€™s â€œpursuit of happiness.â€ He regarded Jesus as a wise moral philosopher, but not necessarily as a divine or divinely inspired figure. He viewed all religions as more or less interchangeable in their most fundamental tenets, which he believed required men to treat each other with kindness and respect.
Thomas Jefferson was a thoroughgoing skeptic who valued reason above faith. He subjected every religious tradition, including his own, to careful scrutiny. He had no patience for talk of miracles, revelation, and resurrection. Like Franklin, Jefferson admired Jesus as a moral philosopher, but insisted that Jesusâ€™ teachings had been distorted beyond all recognition by a succession of â€œcorruptors,â€ such as Paul, Augustine, and Calvin. He regarded such doctrines as predestination, trinitarianism, and original sin as â€œnonsense,â€ â€œabracadabraâ€ and â€œa deliria of crazy imaginations.â€ He referred to Christianity as â€œour peculiar superstitionâ€ and maintained that â€œridiculeâ€ was the only rational response to the â€œunintelligible propositionsâ€ of traditional Christianity.
As I have noted elsewhere, it’s impossible to argue that we live in a Christian culture – when damned near all of your citizens and an even higher percentage of your elected and appointed leaders are Christian, there’s a certain day-to-day reality in that.
- Polls show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian ranging as high as 85% or beyond.
- The president is a Christian…
- …as is the VP.
- The Speaker of the House is Catholic…
- …and the Senate Majority Leader is Mormon.
- Well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian, with a majority of the remainder being Jewish.
- The Supreme Court features seven Christians and two Jews.
- All of our major presidential candidates in both major parties.
- Almost all of our past presidents; depending on how you count Unitarians, you have to go all the way back to Lincoln (ironically enough, the founder of the GOP) to even find one to debate over;
- Hell, even sports franchises are starting to build their operations around the evangelical litmus test.
- It seems unlikely that a similar review of the legislatures and courthouses in the 50 states would reveal too much variation from this overpowering Judeo-Christian norm.
The long history of human progress shows us pushing upward and onward, but there are times when we match the last two steps forward with a step or two (or three) back, and those regressive, reactionary moments just about always occur in times of significant technological advancement. Which means change, which scares people, and fear makes people act in odd, counter-productive ways.
For instance, it causes Mike Huckabee, who thinks he’s running for Preacher (when he isn’t worrying about public health). He believes a great many things that qualify him for the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church, but in a rational world these beliefs, paired with his conviction that he ought to be a religious political leader and his idea that Jesus is tinkering with the polls in Iowa, should automatically disqualify him from consideration for high public office.
Fear also causes people to vote for the Mike Huckabees of the world (he looks to be doing even better at this stage than fellow evangelocrat Pat Robertson was when he ran).
There are a great many who refuse to believe that people like Jefferson meant what they said about religion and politics. And some have apparently convinced themselves that our founders never even said the things they said. So let’s close this meandering little missive with a bit that nobody can deny. From Article VI of the US Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Try to ignore that such a test is currently required at just about every ballot box in the nation. And if you’re happy about this at the moment, think about how much fun it’s going to be if your religion ever falls into the minority.