I would like to make an appeal to the disciples of the Church of Atheism, the Secular Sacramentalists, the Progressive Proselytes:
Please, let’s just be honest with one another.
My guidance counselor always told me that conflict resolution must begin with honesty.
So can we finally take these words to heart, for God’s sa– well, for our sake, anyway?
Today, President Obama attended the National Prayer Breakfast. He got up and spoke piously of his faith in Jesus Christ. He even made some remarks about how “killing the innocent” is the “ultimate betrayal of God’s Will.” A curious statement, considering the person saying it. I guess he was being sarcastic.
In any case, there he was. The President of the United States, like most every other president for the last five decades, publicly promoting religion.
And once again, the conversation turns back to the “Separation of Church and State,” and the ridiculous myth of the First Amendment’s “freedom from religion” guarantee. I don’t mind having this debate. But I wish, friends, that we could have it honestly.
Here is how the honest argument would go:
You: I would like to fundamentally change the United States of America – all of its customs, its traditions, its laws, and the philosophy that serves as the foundation for its mission of freedom and liberty — transforming it into a nation of secularism and agnosticism, BECAUSE…
Me: Horrible idea. Here’s why…
And we could proceed to go back and forth, yell and scream, before eventually, possibly, maybe, hopefully, theoretically, reaching SOME sort of consensus or understanding of SOME kind about SOMETHING. Then we’d shake hands, and go get Italian ice together. It would be fun.
But, unfortunately, our arguments tend to be less fruitful than this, and they never end with us exchanging warm smiles and eating delicious treats. We rarely reach an understanding at all, and it’s hard to find anything constructive about the whole exercise.
Why is that?
Because the argument isn’t honest. The argument isn’t honest because it usually goes something like this:
You: I insist that the United States of America was founded as a bastion of secularism, and it was never intended that God or religion be recognized in any official capacity at all, for any reason, and that the First Amendment guarantees me the right to be insulated from any mention of the Divine in the public square.
Me: Here’s a thousand reason why you’re wrong about that…
You: Religion causes war! Catholic priests are pedophiles! Leviticus says funny things! Imaginary Sky Wizard! Crusades! The Pope wears a funny hat!
I wish I was being hyperbolic here.
See, I don’t mind arguing against your Atheistic Ideal.
You think the country would be better served if God and religion were contained solely in our churches and our homes? Fine. I don’t agree, but that’s a fine point of view. It’s a point of view we could discuss.
But, instead, you try to claim that your ideal is actually how our country was always supposed to look. Defying all proof to the contrary, you say that this is what our Founders were trying to establish. You claim that the First Amendment fundamentally protects us from being exposed to religion, and that it forbids any “official” mention or recognition of God. You say that the First Amendment, from the start, was meant to ban things like manger scenes outside of town halls and Ten Commandment posters in public school hallways.
These claims are erroneous.
Indeed, they are lies – and you know it.
The country was founded on a belief in a creator God and has OFFICIALLY endorsed the concept from the very beginning. That is the reality. It is not really up for debate. You may wish to turn America into something else, but do not pretend that you are turning it into what it was always designed to be. Have the courage of your convictions. Make your case for an Atheist America, but do not stand there and tell me that America has always been atheist.
The evidence against you is staggering:
-Five mentions of God in The Declaration of Independence.
-In God we trust – the motto found in the National Anthem and on coins dating as far back as 1860.
-The Continental Congress issuing the first national proclamation of thanksgiving to God.
-The Continental Congress calling for national repentance of sins.
-Church services being held inside the Capitol Building during the time of the Founders.
-The President swearing in on a Bible. (This is not required, but it’s a custom many have followed. George Washington kissed a Bible after swearing his oath.)
-Swearing on a Bible in court, “so help you God.”
-Federal Oaths that require federal officials to say “so help me God.”
-The Chaplain of the United States Senate.
-Every Senate session beginning with a prayer.
-“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” – George Washington.
-“You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention…” – George Washington’s speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs.
-“The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams
The list goes on and on.
Two can play at the “Founding Fathers religion quotes” game, I realize. I’m sure hundreds of secularists are busily Googling “Thomas Jefferson anti-religion quotes” as we speak. It’s true that some of the Founders were skeptical of “organized religion” (as opposed to disorganized religion, I guess?) but none of them were atheists.
Jefferson was a Deist; a fact that only enhances the case for him being very accepting of God in the public square. Deists believe that the truth of a Divine Creator can be ascertained through observation and reason. In other words, they viewed God as an Absolute Reality (same as any other theist) but disagreed on the application of the reality.
Would Jefferson the Deist think that the governors of men should be required to ignore the Absolute Reality of God?
I doubt it. And the Declaration of Independence seems to indicate otherwise.
After all, we don’t need to cherry pick random statements from dead men, or even analyze the religiosity that is undeniably ingrained in our official laws and customs. We need only think about the philosophy that serves as the foundation of our country. It is a philosophy of Natural Rights. Our Natural Rights come from Natural Law. Natural Law — particularly since Augustine and, later, St. Aquinas’ Summa Theologica — has been understood as a set of foundational moral laws that are inherent in human beings.
Natural Law, and thus Natural Rights, either come from nature itself, or they come from the Creator of Nature. If they come from nature itself, then all democratic notions are in stark defiance of Natural Law. In nature, the strong survive and the weak are preyed upon. That is the law of the jungle; the law of beasts. We, however, subscribe to the transcendent notion that all humans possess a certain dignity which entitles them to certain liberties. This immaterial dignity did not come through an evolutionary process. It was endowed somehow. If it means anything, then it must be more than a “social contract” or a policy of government.
The dignity exists. It is real. It means something. It comes from somewhere.
That “somewhere” must be God.
Without God, your rights are an abhorrent perversion of the only True Natural Law — the Law of Mother Nature – and they are conditionally granted to you by bureaucrats and politicians, who can revoke them at any time and for any reason.
The Declaration of Independence might not be a legal document, but it is a philosophical document. It is America’s Manifesto. It explains that we have rights which are endowed on us by a Creator God. Every good thing about America has grown from this basic starting point.
But… the Separation of Church and State, you shout.
Should I insult your intelligence by reminding you that no such phrase exists in the Constitution? In fact, the First Amendment makes no mention of “separation,” “church,” or “state,” in any order or combination. The First Amendment puts no limit on religion at all. Instead, it limits the governments ability to interfere in religion, and permanently codifies our right to the “free exercise thereof.”
When Thomas Jefferson used the notorious phrase “Separation of Church and State” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, he was describing a one-sided wall where the corruption of the Government could not infiltrate and infect the operations of the Church. He only chose those particular words because he was speaking to Baptists. He thought it might resonate with that crowd, considering the founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, had written 150 years earlier about the need for a “wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the World.”
So when the Supreme Court later used this letter to justify its legal opinion in Everson vs. Board of Education, it was really deciding case law based on part of a sentence written by a 17th century Baptist preacher.
Stellar work there, Your Honors.
Remember, the settlers were escaping a country that persecuted Catholics after King Henry VIII threw a hissy fit when the Pope wouldn’t change Canon Law to suit the king’s habit of divorcing and/or murdering his wives. The Crown was declared the “only supreme head of the Church in England,” and guys like Thomas More were summarily beheaded and chopped into pieces for refusing to recognize the king’s spiritual authority.
In other words, they were leaving a country where government had intruded on religion — not the other way around.
(**NOTE: I’m not saying that most of the North American settlers were Catholics fleeing Henry VIII. I’m only using this as an example of the sort of persecution religious people suffered under British rule.)
But, my atheist friends, I think you know all of this. Or at least some of it.
This country was built by God fearing men and women who intended to enshrine and protect the very rights that could only come from God Himself. God has always been central to America, both officially and unofficially, publicly and personally. This is the incontrovertible truth. It is a historical reality, and not one that can be reasonably debated.
If you would like to change America into something else, you are free to try. But have the guts to admit what you are doing. Be honest.
And then we can all get Italian ice together.
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