Saturday, June 27, 2009

Putting Down the Dying Argument for a Biblically Based Nation

We hear it every day: "The Bible was the basis for our constitution", a statement so obviously wrong it is a testimony to right wingers refusal to read either document carefully, right up there with the claim that the 10 Commandments forms the basis of our law, despite the clear unconstitutionality of over half of them.

For some good detailed refutations of this claim, Gregg Frazier had some interesting input in a now defunct (what else is new) discussion on a blog called "Evangelical Outpost". It's a quite remarkable bit or irony that so many Christians intent on spreading The Truth (tm) erase entire discussion threads when the discussion ceases to go their way. Here are Dr. Frazer's comments:

Correlation does not demonstrate causation. Leaves do not turn brown because squirrels gather nuts (or vice versa). The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!

This is a common problem when debating fundies. They presume that the Bible came from the gods, and the gods are the source for everything, so naturally anything consistent with the Bible came from the Bible. The notion that something Biblical, say the golden rule (which appeared in many cultures predating the Bible), or the rules against murder and theft, originated elsewhere is anathema to them.

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.

Very true, and very contrary to documents like The Mayflower Compact, which were very explicit in their Christianity.

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

As for freedom and liberty in the Bible, it is always SPIRITUAL freedom/liberty — as a look at the verses you’ve listed IN CONTEXT shows. That is NOT to say that political liberty is an anti-biblical concept — it’s just not a biblical one. Arguing that it is a “Calvinist” concept does not make it a biblical one, either. The “disciples” of Calvin did not write inspired revelation.

The key Founders (J. Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, & G. Morris) — those most responsible for the founding documents — were religious, but not Christians. They believed that religion was essential to produce the morality that a free society required, but that any religion would suffice. Their religious belief was a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism — with rationalism as the trump card and decisive factor. They retained elements of Christianity, but rejected the elements of Christianity (and of natural religion) that they considered irrational. However: of the ten CORE beliefs of Christianity (those shared by all of the major Protestant denominations of the day (and by the Catholics), they held to only one (or two, in some cases). Their belief system was, as I have termed it, theistic rationalism.

Hat Tip: Ed Brayton


parakeet said...

"The notion that something Biblical, say the golden rule (which appeared in many cultures predating the Bible)"

Do you know of a source older than "Love your neighbor as yourself" from the book of Leviticus?

parakeet said...

Answer to previous question:

Ancient Egyptian: "Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 - 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest version ever written.

Of course, a bible-guy could say that when Abraham went down to Egypt, he taught this to the natives... (shrug)

A World Quite Mad said...

Well, actually, while the Pilgrims did come here for religious freedom, it was for themselves. That's why Rhode Island was founded, they kicked Roger Williams out of Massachusetts Bay Colony because his theology didn't match the status quo.

But that's a hundred and fifty years before our country was founded, and entirely separate. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, many colonies (and later states) had it on the books that you couldn't hold public office unless you were a specific denomination of Protestantism. In Virginia, you had to be Episcopalian/Anglican. In other states, you had to be Methodist.

In fact, that's why the Constitution has it's only mention of religion in Article 6, and it denounces that. It says, " religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

That's it, that's the only mention of religion in the Constitution. And while people may cite the Declaration of Independence as a document that is important to our current laws, that is faulty. While the Declaration does say some bloody brilliant things, it is not a governing document, but simply a declaration of war. It was in no way, shape or form meant to outline the laws here.

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, 6th Dec 1813