The Constitution is an atheistic document.

This recent quote by former House Majority Leader Tom Delay shocked me.  “I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government,” DeLay told host Matthew Hagee, the executive pastor of the Texas Cornerstone Church. “[W]e stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles.”  That would have been dangerous talk in the days during which our country was founded.  As Thomas Jefferson put it bluntly, “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”[1]

Mr. Delay, the United States Constitution was written by men.  Fifty five men to be precise and thirty nine of them would eventually sign it, representing 12 of the 13 states, as Rhode Island did not send a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.  John Adams wrote, “Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence (sic) 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.” [2] Among the religious interests represented were Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Quakers and Catholics, as well as a Deist or two.  These men, all well-educated and of strikingly diverse backgrounds, each had concerns for the potential of a single, state endorsed religion above all others as well as protecting each individual’s natural right to religious expression.  They were not far removed in time from the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition and were keenly aware of recent excesses of fanatical devotion.  “Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe.” [3].   Alexander Hamilton’s grandfather was, in fact, a French Huguenot who fled France to avoid persecution by King Louis XIV, for simply being Protestant.  

 Intellectual advancements, such as the scientific method transformed the mystical arts of alchemy into modern chemistry and physics, turned eccentric wizard into respected scientist and ushered in a new age of inquiry and debate.  They were witness to an awakening in the world that freed many from the slavery of blind faith and they understood the power of reason, observation and above all else, education.   This wisdom allowed these intelligent, worldly men to devise a system of government that relied on the natural grace and integrity of humankind itself as a foundation for a civil society.  “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.” [4]

One of the most esteemed and honored figures of the time was Thomas Jefferson who professed his strongly held beliefs in a simple and concise manner. “I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”[5]  He was a man who studied philosophy, history, geology, botany, and was curious about everything.  Although author and signatory of many historically famous documents, he listed the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom one of his proudest accomplishments, second of three that he wished to be listed on his headstone. 

So what happened?  Apathy?  Ignorance?  Lack of interest?  Why are we facing more and more religious tests, exceptions, exemptions and allowances, including continued tax-exempt status for churches, when these impulses for theocracy were foreseen and warned against strongly by our very own founders? Said the Connecticut Delegate, Oliver Wolcott, of what has come to be known as the Establishment Clause, “Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression.”[6]

Well said, sir. And oppression is what would ensue if current forces are allowed to continue their shadowy usurpation of power.  From the Dominion movement in Evangelical Christianity to Christian militia groups in the Pacific Northwest and around the country, reaction to society’s progress by those unhappy with that progress is increasingly militant and fearful.  As these populations continue to lose influence and long held privileges, Americans will have to be extra vigilant that religion never succeeds in taking over the reins of governance.  Sorry Mr. Delay, you were wrong about almost everything else in your political career and you are most definitely wrong on this.



[1] Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

[2] John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

 

[3] Oliver Ellsworth, Philip B Kurland and Ralph Lerner (eds.), The Founder’s Constitution, University of Chicago Press, 1987, Vol. 4, p. 638

[4] John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788

 

[5] Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

[6] Oliver Wolcott, Connecticut Ratifying Convention, 9 January 1788

Views: 130

Tags: Constitution, atheism, politics, religion

Comment by Pope Beanie on March 15, 2014 at 4:29pm

So what happened?  Apathy?  Ignorance?  Lack of interest?

I think it's the other way around, mostly. Too many religious-whacky, dyspassionate voters. (Hey, I think I just made up a useful word!) Also, republicans have gerrymandered their districts to ensure the right-most constituents win primaries, leaving moderates behind who might be more likely to win the general elections against democrats. (I'll bet this is more true in Texas than most other states. I don't have statistics, and wouldn't mind being corrected.)

Btw, I wouldn't say the constitution is written with atheism in mind, but agnosticism. I would expect a government with an atheistic constitution could easily declare itself against religious freedom.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on March 15, 2014 at 6:49pm

“[W]e stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution, that it’s based on biblical principles."

DeLay should have stayed in the bug killing business or in some field where he actually knows what he's talking about. Consider the "Biblical principles" codified in the Ten Commandments:

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Violates the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image..."
Contradicts the First Amendment right to freedoms of religion and expression. (It seems the ironic hypocrisy of making a graven image of laws that prohibit graven images escapes the proponents of 10 commandment monuments.)

3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
Violates the First Amendment right to freedoms of religion and speech.

4. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Violates the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. (The constitution also does not criminalize working on Saturdays or Sundays.)

5. "Honor thy father and thy mother."
Contradicts the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. (It mandates how citizens must express themselves and to whom).

6. "Thou shall not kill."
Conflicts with the Fifth Amendment: "No person shall [...] be deprived of life [...] without due process of law..." The Constitution permits killing in some circumstances. (It's also disingenuous to claim this is "Christian" law since it existed centuries before Moses lived, in the Laws of Hammurabi and in the Code of Ur-Nammu.)

7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
The Constitution does not criminalize adultery.

8. "Thou shalt not steal."
Conflicts with the Fifth Amendment: "No person shall [...] be deprived of [...] property [...] without due process of law..." The Constitution permits private property to be seized against the private owner's will and then sold off to another private owner at a price he has no say over. (If you're wondering how that works: the same government officials that seize the property get to (re)define the meaning of stealing in whatever way they see fit.) See also, the pre-Moses Laws of Hammurabi and the Code of Ur-Nammu.)

9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
See also, the pre-Moses Laws of Hammurabi and in the Code of Ur-Nammu.

10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's."
The Constitution does not criminalize coveting. (The free market capitalism on which the United States depends probably could not function if Keeping Up With The Jones' were outlawed.)

Comment by Unseen on March 15, 2014 at 8:05pm

I know the guy who cracked Hammurabi's Code.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on March 16, 2014 at 4:11am

So what happened?  Apathy?  Ignorance?  Lack of interest?  Why are we facing more and more religious tests, exceptions, exemptions and allowances, including continued tax-exempt status for churches, ....

When President Reagan invited conservative xians to join the Republican Party:

1. No one had counted them and they outnumbered what remained of the Party after twenty years of expelling moderates. They also had effective leadership. The Democrats, weakened by their Viet Nam disaster, were unable to compete. (The expelling of moderates had begun about 1960, when Pres. Eisenhower's moderation drove the Birchers in the Party to call him a "conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy". The expelling continues. Some sources say the 1948 loss by Tom Dewey to Harry Truman moved Western conservatives to begin a takeover.)

2. In the mid-1960s, Democrats and moderate Republicans, opposed by Southern Democrats, passed various civil rights laws. The Southerners left the Democratic Party. Nixon's Southern Strategy recruited into the Republican Party the descendants of slave owners, and they brought their racism with them. (The Party's hard swing to the right began after Nixon's presidency; he signed the Environmental Protection Act into law.)

The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 gave more personhood rights to corporations and their money, together with that of the billionaires, fund today's Christian Republican Party.

The Democratic Party serves different money sources.

Comment by _Robert_ on March 16, 2014 at 8:55am

Why don't we just discuss this problem during the next National Prayer Breakfast ?

 

 

Comment by Unseen on March 16, 2014 at 9:35am

Many of our founding fathers were deists and deism is roughly equivalent to some varieties of what came to be known as Death of God Theology. Some DoG theologians held that while God existed at one time he had obviously died or gone away or left the world in the hands of Mankind. Deism accepts that God played the Creator role, but no longer participates, no longer plays an active role in its operation or in the lives of humans.

Comment by Andy Hoke on March 20, 2014 at 11:20am

The US' First Amendment actually precedes Neitzsche pronouncing God's death some 100 years later. That just occurred to me.

One can argue that the diminution of religion in statecraft yields prosperity. We Americans must live with how the native population was treated. Those of us who are white feel bad about slavery too.

The Bible includes many instructions on the treatment of slaves, as well as some crazy advice on real estate acquisition. 

Our Constitution may forbid government's establishment of religion, but our currency yet reads "In God We Trust." This is the world's default currency, and that may have a lot to do with our First Amendment.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on March 20, 2014 at 6:40pm

Regarding Neitzsche's God is dead remark.

My reading of Zarathustra told me that he gave those words to an insane man to say.

Though FN admired the strong man, he lived in times more religious than ours. Had an xian scolded him, he would have been able to protect himself by replying "An insane man said those words".

Comment by Andy Hoke on March 20, 2014 at 7:40pm

Neitzsche also said that in all madness there is reason.

If not Neitzsche, I'm not sure who else to attribute the death of God.

It's not unlike the game Clue; Neitzsche, in the 19th century, with the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Comment by Andy Hoke on March 20, 2014 at 7:41pm

Or was it Darwin, or Jefferson, or Galileo or Tyco Brahe?

Take your pick.

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